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Holistic Fitness: Keeping Your Brain Youthful and Agile


(Image: winnielimkhoo.wordpress.com)

The older we get, the more carefully we have to look after our health. Regardless of how strong we think we are, father time catches up with all of us and the only way to battle its effects is to take an active approach to health and fitness.

Of course, we all know that staying physically active is hugely important from a longevity point of view. Low impact exercises that you can fit around your working life, such as Pilates, are a great way to stay strong, supple and fit once you get over fifty. Naturally, exercising without addressing other areas of your life is futile and a certain way to undo any hard work you do in the gym.

We believe that fitness over fifty requires a holistic approach and that means cleaning up your diet by sticking to simple principles, such as eating little and often, as well as getting the necessary rest so your body can recover from stress.

 

The Effects of Aging on Your Brain

effect of ageing on the brain

(Image: web.stanford.edu)

 

 

But wait, that’s not all. To really be fit in your fifties, you need to work on your mind as much as your body. Over the last few decades there has been a slew of research into the effects of aging on the brain and the overwhelming consensus is that our cognitive skills decline as we get older.

Although the rate of decline will vary from person-to-person, studies have shown that from the age of 40 onwards, the brain changes in the following ways:

 

  • Parts of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex (an area at the front of the frontal lobe) and the hippocampus, shrink as we get older. These parts of the brain play a part in learning and memory, which means these skills will decline as we get older.

 

  • In certain parts of the brain, white matter (myelin-covered axons) can reduce or prevent neutrons from communicating with each other as we get older.

 

  • Into our fifties, blood flow in the brain is reduced because the arteries narrow.

 

As you can see, the brain is just like any muscle and is susceptible to atrophy as we get old. Fortunately, there are ways to stop this decline. Although we can’t completely overcome the effects of aging, we can slow them down by activating our brains. Naturally, just as when we exercise, it’s important to rest our brains and that’s why sleep is crucial as we get older.

 

Games to Keep Your Brain Active

brain as lightbulb

(Image: youtube.com)

  

However, if you’re looking for a way to boost your brain cells in later life, we have put together a set of games of skill and logic perfect for keeping you entertained and mentally active during your waking hours.

 

Crosswords

 

We all use words every day, but unless you challenge yourself to engage with them in new ways your affinity for them will quickly fade. While it’s perfectly possible to read the dictionary and learn some new words each day, this kind of passive learning won’t tax your brain enough to stop its decline.

Fortunately, there are dozens of games out there that can keep your mind active and help alleviate the cognitive decline we all suffer from in later life. Leading the way in terms of entertainment and difficulty is Braingle’s Written in the Stars. Each task essentially requires you to create a list of words based on a certain topic, apply a certain code to them and then untangle the code to get an answer.

This process of forming and reforming will force you to engage with words in a new way and be much fitter in later life. Indeed, British comedy legend Ronnie Barker was famous for his way with words and you can watch the video above for proof of that. Even beyond his 50th birthday, Barker would layer his scripts with turns of phrases, puns and double entendres. If we’re able to stay half a sharp as he was, we’ll be doing extremely well in later life.

 

Blackjack

From words to numbers and the classic casino game of blackjack. The subject of numerous Hollywood stories, the benefits of blackjack were expertly demonstrated by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man, which you can watch a teaser of above. Despite being severely autistic, Raymond (played by Hoffman) is a blackjack expert thanks to his affinity for numbers and probabilities. Just as we’ve seen in so many movies and books that feature blackjack, Hoffman reads a deck of cards like a book and uses the game to keep his brain active and himself in contact with the real world.

Another instance of blackjack permeating popular culture and proving its cognitive benefits was the 2009 film, The Hangover. Alan, the film’s “idiot,” was a blackjack savant and used his ability with numbers to break the bank.

If blackjack is the perfect game for taxing your numerical skills, then how can you join the action? Some online casinos now allow customers to sign-up and play the game for free using “play money”. The aim of the game is simple – make a total as close to 21 (or 21 exactly) in order to beat the dealer. This combination of mental arithmetic and logic will keep your brain more than active.

 

Private Eye

 

If you fancy yourself as something of a detective, then Private Eye is another great game. Think of all the famous TV detectives who have used their brain power alone to solve a serious crime: Sherlock Holmes, Columbo (see above), and Inspector Morse. All of these detectives were well into their fifties and still as sharp as a tack because they constantly had to survey situations and pick out the odd element.

Private Eye is a game which replicates this process by asking you to analyse a grid full of symbols and pick out the odd one. Despite sounding like an easy task, it’s actually quite tricky to find the symbol (or selection of symbols) that doesn’t match.

To solve each puzzle you need to think laterally and that’s something that will keep your brain sharp for many years. Indeed, instead of relying on instant information, this game forces you to consider a host of variables (just as Columbo would) in order to arrive at the right conclusion.

Staying fit when you’re fifty takes time and effort, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of focusing solely on your body. To achieve overall fitness and longevity you need to make sure you keep your brain active by enjoying some of the games we’ve highlighted in this article.

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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