Young lady standing with bicycle on a sea coast and enjoying sunset

We can’t stop time, but three body-smart habits can help us turn back the clock a bit.


A range of studies show that a mix of mental and physical activity can promote well-being, improve our health and prevent the onset of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Not to mention, a body in good condition is less likely to sustain injuries like falls that can be devastating as we get older.


Our daily choices can make the difference between staving off disease and living a vibrant life, or setting ourselves up for myriad health problems. The key is to consider your whole health and address your mind, body and community: 1) continue learning to keep your brain stimulated and thinking sharp; 2) stay physically active to prevent injuries, and 3) keep your spirits up by socializing and making new connections.


1. Activate the Mind

Lifelong learning is the key to stimulating the mind and slowing decline in cognitive function (or inhibiting it altogether!). Learning comes in many forms: taking an art class, participating in a current events discussion group or attending a talk about a subject you enjoy. The point is to engage the mind in an activity that exercises the brain.


There’s proof that learning does, in fact, keep our mental muscles toned. The 2012 Rush Memory and Aging Project conducted in Chicago with more than 1,200 elders showed that cognitively active seniors (average age of 80) were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than seniors with less cognitive activity.


2. Move the Body

Physical activity boosts your energy, triggers endorphins—the “feel good” hormones—and improves flexibility, muscle tone, balance, strength and stamina. Beyond the physical benefits of movement, physical activity also works the brain. A University of Illinois study showed how modest, regular aerobic exercise can improve overall cognitive health. Older adults who took 40-minute walks three days per week during one year saw a two-percent increase in the size of their hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in learning and memory.


Why does “working” the hippocampus matter? For one, it shrinks 1 to 2 percent annually in people without dementia. But this trend can be stopped and even reversed, and physical activity stokes the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus.


3. Invigorate the Spirit

Friends, family and community give us a reason to look forward to the next day, and connecting with others simply makes us feel good (remember those endorphins we mentioned?). Socializing and community involvement can put us in situations where we learn new things and engage in conversations that provoke new ideas. Getting out there and actively participating in life keeps our spirits up, and these new experiences help to keep us young in both body and mind.


There’s no magic bullet for slowing down aging, but we know that feeding our minds, bodies and spirits keeps us sharp, active and enjoying life. As the saying goes, you’re only as old as you feel. You can’t control the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated, but you absolutely can take ownership of your daily activities to maintain – and improve – the vibrancy you probably took for granted in your youth.



Image credit: Deposit Photos/mihtiander


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