- Many people develop mental and neurological disorders as they enter old age, depression, dementia, and anxiety being among the most common.
- These challenges often go underrecognized, but it’s important we stay on top of our mental, emotional, and physical health as we age.
- Take care of yourself throughout life by sticking to the basics: continue to prioritize exercising (body and brain), eating well, and practicing good sleep hygiene.
- Also, continue to find meaning and fulfillment in your life through hobbies, volunteering, and trying new things.
- Finally, learn to accept and cope well with change—our lives are ever-changing, and the sooner we welcome it the better.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder, the most common being dementia and depression, followed by anxiety and substance abuse. Often, these physical and mental health challenges go under-recognized and unaddressed. It’s time to change that.
You can take proactive steps to keep your brain “young” and maintain your mental, physical, and emotional health as you age. In summary, this involves staying on top of your diet, exercising (your body and your brain), finding fulfillment in life, and welcoming change. Prioritize the following to age well:
1. Stick to the basics.
First, continue to exercise, eat and sleep well. Don’t put these fundamentals on the backburner as you get older, as many people do. “Some of the very basic things we can do to help make sure we are doing well emotionally is get enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Often, these key aspects of our lives get overlooked. However, we need all of these to help maintain our health and mental health,” Clinical Psychologist Melissa Jones explains. “None of us, old or young, do well or feel well when we do not get enough sleep, exercise, or nutrition. We need a balanced diet to feel well and to make sure our body is functioning to the best of its ability. We need exercise to make sure we stay physically fit, as well as to obtain the benefits of the good chemicals exercise releases in our bodies.” Melissa Jones
2. Exercise your brain.
You should also work your brain consistently to keep it in good shape as you age. “It’s important to remember that our brain chemistry changes as we age. Among many things, the most common changes include the loss of neurons, decreased communication between neurons, and the introduction of deposits from fat and other things in the brain itself,” Dr. Bryan Bruno explains. “While the brain adapts quite well to these changes, there are some important things we can do ourselves to slow or resist the negative changes our physiologies undergo with age. Doing brain teasers and puzzles helps stimulate the connections between neurons and has been shown to resist the onset or effects of degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Apart from brain games, reading, learning a second language, or taking classes will achieve this end and keep you sharper for longer.”
3. Keep life meaningful.
Another important priority is continuing to find fulfillment in your life. This might seem difficult after retirement or in our later years, but it’s equally as important as it is when we’re young. Arlene Englander, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains: “In our younger and middle-aged years, many of us are involved in education, planning for careers, working and parenthood. Sadly, though, many seniors think that retirement is a time when meaningful and productive activity ought to stop. Another therapist I met once said, ‘I don’t let my clients retire unless they have three very time-consuming hobbies.’ I agree. If you can find hobbies, interests, sports, volunteer work, or any other outlets which involve you and consume your time, you’ll find yourself back in that wonderful state of ‘flow’ in which you’re challenged, involved, and immersed in the moment. That’s when time passes effortlessly, and there’s the joy of accomplishment, new knowledge, connection, and more.”
4. Push yourself out of the comfort zone, into the “hugging zone.”
Building off of the last tip, push yourself to grow and try new things. “I would advise pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and into the ‘hugging zone’ where all of the growth happens,” says Stone Kraushaar, Clinical Psychologist and Therapeutic Coach. “This will look distinct for each individual and will be based on what the person wants to achieve and their comfort level. In other words, one person might be skydiving, and another might be going to a yoga class for the first time. The more we are connected to new activities and groups as old relationships may be changing or ending, the healthier it is for each of us. In addition, it is ideal to keep trying new things so that when we age, we don’t become bored with or less interested and engaged in life.”
5. Learn to accept and cope with change.
Finally, get to a point where you are comfortable with change. As Lucy Harris explains, doing so can help to maintain and even improve your mental health: “You need to learn to cope with and accept change. Doing this allows you to make the most of the amazing times and keep a positive perspective during the hard times. Take a minute to be grateful for the changes that do come around and find the positive in the harder times. Remember, you can’t change everything and there are just some things that you have to accept as they are out of your control.”