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7 Easy Things You Can Do Every Day to Keep Your Mind Sharp

These brain-boosting habits are beyond simple, doctors say.

As you age, preserving and promoting your cognitive health becomes ever more important. And while there are countless tools and programs that claim to keep your mind sharp as you get older, experts say that the most important things you can do are actually simple, accessible, and free. Not only do these everyday interventions promote excellent cognitive health, but many of them also contribute to better overall health and lower all-cause mortality rates. The key, experts say, is establishing good habits that you can repeat on a daily basis.

Wondering where to begin? Read on to learn the seven easy things you can do every day to keep your mind sharp, according to doctors. Your brain—and the rest of your body—will thank you.

RELATED: 8 Affirmations to Feel Ridiculously Happy Every Day in Retirement.

Get some exercise.

senior couple enjoying a run
iStock / PeopleImages

Getting regular exercise—ideally at least 150 minutes per week—can have a profound effect on your cognitive and physical health.

"Jump, squat, march, raise those arms! The benefits of regular physical activity are so numerous—especially for our brain health—that, in a sense, exercise is the closest thing we have to a miracle drug," says Scott Kaiser, MD, director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. "Even a ten-minute burst can yield great results."

To maximize impact, Kaiser recommends exercises that combine physical and cognitive challenges, which he says are especially efficient in improving memory and brain health. Try learning and practicing a dance routine or biking a new route to get the mind and body working in tandem.

RELATED: 6 Fun At-Home Hobbies That Will Make You More Interesting.

Eat well.

Woman eating a healthy meal in the kitchen.
PeopleImages / iStock

Following a healthy diet is another simple everyday way to keep your mind sharp as you get older. In particular, the MIND diet is considered especially effective at preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, says Verna Porter, MD, a neurologist and director of programs for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and neurocognitive disorders at Providence Saint John's Health Center.

"The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 'brain-healthy food groups,'" she explains. These include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, poultry, olive oil, resveratrol (a polyphenol compound found in wine, peanuts, berries, and grapes), and fish in moderation, she says.

RELATED: 7 Fun Games That Help Boost Your Memory, Experts Say.

Practice mindful breathing.

older man enjoying a nature walk outside
iStock / simonapilolla

According to Porter, experiencing consistent stress can have a profound impact on your cognitive health.

"Chronic or persistent stress can actually lead to nerve cell decline and even death, which may manifest as atrophy (shrinkage in size) of important memory areas in the brain," she tells Best Life. "Nerve cell dysfunction and degeneration in turn increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia."

Porter recommends engaging in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, which she says may diminish the damaging effects of stress on the brain.

Kaiser agrees that practicing these mindfulness activities can help by "slowing heart rate, relaxing blood vessels to lower blood pressure, boosting immune factors, lowering blood sugar, improving mood, and more."

RELATED: 10 Ways to Feel Calm and Happy (That Aren't Meditation).

Connect with others.

A group of friends of different ages sitting around a patio table playing cards and laughing.
Pearl PhotoPix / Shutterstock

Another easy thing you can do every day to keep your mind sharp is making time for friends, family, and even acquaintances. Maintaining your social ties can greatly reduce your cognitive risk, the experts say.

"Social isolation and loneliness have negative health impacts on par with obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day and are associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia," warns Kaiser. "Simply taking a moment to connect with someone—even through a brief phone call—can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression and deliver brain-protecting benefits."

RELATED: 7 Journaling Tips to Feel Happy Every Day in Retirement.

Give back.

A smiling middle-aged woman wearing a green "volunteer" t-shirt holds a bag of food to be donated.

One of the best ways to help yourself when it comes to cognitive health is to help others. "It turns out that volunteering, giving back, and having a strong sense of purpose in life are secret ingredients of healthy aging and some of the most powerful ways we can improve our brain," says Kaiser.

Porter suggests visiting Experience Corps, Volunteer Match, AmeriCorps, or to learn more.

RELATED: 8 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Take a Daily Walk.

Express yourself.

Older Man and Woman Painting
NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock

Creative pursuits aren't just fun and fulfilling, they're also neuroprotective.

"Singing, playing an instrument, painting, and writing a poem, are just a few examples of the type of creative expression that improve brain health," says Kaiser. "And while certain activities, like playing an instrument throughout your life, are associated with a reduced risk of dementia, there are benefits to the arts and creativity at any age. It is never too late to try something new."

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Sleep well.

couple sleeping in bed. It is morning, time to get up soon.

Finally, getting enough sleep—between seven to nine hours for most adults—can help keep your mind sharp.

"Shutting down electronic devices, lowering the lights and thermostat, and other aspects of a healthy bedtime routine can improve our sleep," says Kaiser. "The quantity and quality of sleep—needed to clear debris, 'reset' neural networks, and provide downtime to various systems in our brains—have profound physiological impacts that impact our day-to-day thinking, memory, and mood as well as our long-term risk of cognitive decline and dementia."

Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, agrees that sleep should be a top priority.

"Study after study has shown that even an hour or two less sleep each night for just a few consecutive nights can have effects on the brain that last longer than those few days of disrupted rest," he says. "From delayed reaction times that can put you in danger while driving or working to fatigue and depression, 'burning the midnight oil' can have serious health and brain repercussions," says Williams.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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