How to Keep Mentally Sharp over 50
Previous generations may have seen their 50s as the beginning of old age but, with increasing life expectancy and later retirement ages, 50 is still virtually a spring chicken! Unfortunately, no one has told our brains that it’s not time to slow down and it is not unusual to find yourself struggling for the odd word or the details of a memory. The good news is that you can delay the natural decline of mental capacity simply by keeping active.
How Your Brain Changes with Age
The human brains start forming around three weeks after conception, developing the nearly one hundred billion neurones that will be with it for life. By the time a child is two years old their brain will have grown to 80% of its adult size, continuing to expand until the teenage years when it will weigh around three pounds (1.5 kilogrammes). A person’s brain is at its peak in their 20s, with function beginning to slow as they move into their 30s when learning new skills and knowledge becomes harder, and it takes longer to remember some words. At around 60 years old, a person’s brain starts to shrink. People don’t lose knowledge but can’t always access it as quickly. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases, reaching 50% by the time a person is 85.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
- Any form of exercise is beneficial, regardless of your age. Regular exercise can help:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
- Strengthen your bones.
- Reduce the risk of dementia.
- Improve your mood and your mental health.
Being active can also be hugely positive for those who have retired and are missing the social aspect of work, by keeping them in regular contact with people who share a common interest.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine undertook a systematic review of 39 different studies which looked at the effect of exercises on cognitive function in the over 50s. It found that, no matter what their cognitive status was to begin with, it improved with regular exercise. The biggest benefits were found in those who exercised at a moderate level for 45-65 minutes at least three times a week.
- You can be fit at any age. Exercises to consider as you age include:
- Strength training. Bone density decreases after the age of 30 but lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises can slow this process down and help keep bones and muscles strong.
- Tai Chi. The low-impact exercises can give fantastic benefits on as little as 20 minutes a day. It helps relieve stress, reduce blood pressure, improve concentration and mental capacity, and increase lower body strength.
- A growing number of over 50s are gravitating towards ballet classes for the many benefits they offer. Try it, and you could improve your posture, strength, and flexibility.
Exercise is beneficial but be careful about jumping in with both feet into something new, especially if you haven’t played sport for decades. Start slowly and build your fitness gradually – walking before you run. See your GP for a general check up. If you have a chronic condition like arthritis, find out if there are any limitations you need to be consider.