Staying mentally sharp as you age is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your quality of life. Our cognition, how we perceive and understand the world, directly influences how happy we are in life. Luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can stay mentally sharp, no matter your age.

Previously, we covered three general avenues — staying active, playing “brain games,” and living a healthy lifestyle. However, there are more specific things you can do that not only promote healthy brain aging but can also protect against mental decline. If you’re a regular reader of the Shop & Enroll blog, you may even do most of these already!

Socialize with Friends and Family

Maintaining strong friendships and familial relationships into your senior years is a wise choice for a number of reasons. Seeing friends and family isn’t just a nice way to spend an afternoon; it’s great for maintaining mental sharpness. Not only does friendship keep you active and mentally engaged, two of the major factors we discussed in our first article, but it also protects against senior isolation. Seniors who are isolated are at an increased risk of mental decline and even dementia.

Even non-human friends can have a significant impact on your mental health and well-being.

Luckily, it’s not terribly hard to avoid isolation — you just have to get out and socialize. Often, the hardest step is the first one, especially if you’re shy. Whether you’re finding new friends or rediscovering old ones, sometimes, it’s as simple as putting yourself out there. Even non-human friends can have a significant impact on your mental health and well-being. If you’re homebound or don’t know where to start, signing up for social media is another good way to stay connected.

Manage Your Stress and Mood

Stress is another major factor that can lead to cognitive decline, so learning to manage it can go a long to way staying mentally sharp. Over time, stress can greatly impact your mental health in a number of ways. Primarily, stress has been shown to harm nearly all cognitive functions, like memory and visual perception. Stress’ detrimental relationship with memory is especially well established. Further, sustained stress can lead to depression, which can impair your mental sharpness. This can manifest in a number of ways, like having difficulty maintaining attention, with decision making, and of course, with memory. Depression is also strongly linked with an increased risk in dementia.

Maintaining a positive outlook is key, but there are other things you can do, too.

So, how can you combat stress and depression and keep them from causing mental decline? Generally speaking, maintaining a positive outlook is key to lessening the effects of stress, but there are other things you can do to reduce your stress, too. Meditation can also be effective at decreasing stress in your life. Taking part in healthy activities or fun pastimes are smart life choices, as well. If you’re enrolled in Medicare, you may also have mental health services covered to help you should you need them. Making sure you get enough sleep can also lessen your stress and anxiety.

Get Enough Sleep

Speaking of sleep, getting enough rest is an excellent way to maintain and even promote healthy brain aging. As we mention in our sleep article, a sleep-deprived mind can struggle with memory issues. Memory isn’t the only way that lack of sleep hurts us cognitively, however. Studies show that not getting enough sleep can detract from our abilities to concentrate while slowing our reaction time and decision making. Other studies have found that sleep deprivation can have “drastic deficits in cognitive processing.”

Studies show that not getting enough sleep can detract from concentration and slow our reaction time and decision making.

The best way to combat lack of sleep is to ensure you’re resting enough each night. We’ve outlined a number of ways you can help yourself sleep longer at night, including tips for before bed, as well as during bedtime. Among these is developing a sleep schedule and making your room sleep-friendly. If you’re still struggling to get enough sleep, you may want to see a sleep specialist, who can help figure out if you suffer from a sleep disorder.

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Keeping mentally sharp is so incredibly important, no matter how old you are, but is even more essential as we age. This is when cognitive decline can start to really become a detriment to our lives. Protecting your mind and ensuring healthy mental aging is one way that you can make sure you get to enjoy life well into your senior years.