How to keep your brain sharp

16 February 2022


With millions of people living longer than ever before, many of us will understandably look for ways to keep our brain sharp as we get older. It’s perfectly normal to occasionally misplace things or forget names as we age, but at what point should we be concerned, and are there any brain exercises or practices that can help keep our brain healthy?

How does ageing affect the brain?

We are all different and it’s hard to predict how a person’s brain will be affected by ageing. Some of the common challenges faced by the brain as we age include:

  • Difficulties in learning new information
  • Multitasking
  • Strategic memory (e.g. recall of names, numbers) and remembering appointments.

These examples are entirely normal and not necessarily a cause for concern. However, the onset of dementia, and particular conditions such as Alzheimer’s, can noticeably impact your daily life because they significantly impair cognitive functions such as memory, thinking and reasoning. You can learn more about the difference between dementia and normal signs of ageing from The Alzheimer’s Society.

If you'd like to know more about whether dementia affects life insurance coverage. Please guide our guide about life insurance and dementia.

Tips for keeping your brain healthy

More than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, but at some stage in all our lives, finding ways to keep our brain sharp becomes vitally important. Here we’ve summarised some tips for how you can keep your brain active as you age.

Learning new things

Perhaps one of the best ways to stay cognitively active is to challenge yourself with new activities. This might include pursuits where you ‘use your brain’, such as studying, a book club, or even a crossword puzzle. Learning new things can encourage someone to acquire different skills, such as problem solving or reasoning.

Regular exercise

Even gentle exercises such as walking or swimming could increase blood flow and heart rate, which may keep your brain active. If you feel like trying something more strenuous, aerobic exercises and strength training can enhance your cardiovascular health. Find out more about getting fit and staying fit after 50.

Weighing fruit at the grocers

A healthy diet

While there is no research that suggests there is a definitive diet for helping to keep your brain active as you age, the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit, veg, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil, are well known. You may come across the term MIND diet', which is designed to boost brain functioning and consists of wholegrains such as quinoa, oats and barley, with a reduced amount of processed foods and red meat.

Better sleep

Getting more sleep is one way to keep your brain healthy. The longer and better quality sleep we have, the more the brain is able to recharge. Sleep deprivation can affect our ability to remember things, so making sure we get forty winks could have a positive impact on our brain health and behaviour.

Mature woman sleeping
Volunteers painting toegther

Staying socially connected

Pursuing meaningful activities is good for the brain as well as the soul. For example, volunteering in your local community, joining a music group or meeting up for coffee could help you stay in touch with others and keep the brain stimulated. Read more in our guide on volunteering

Reduce your stress levels

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol has been associated with reduced brain functioning in older people. Activities such as yoga and meditation can help reduce your stress and anxiety levels, leading to better brain health.

Brain training

Brain training is reputedly among the best ways to keep your brain sharp. These are often computer-based games that are designed to be mentally stimulating. Keeping the brain stimulated may help improve our cognitive performance as we age, and while more studies need to be carried out, brain training may even prove to be effective against cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia.

What is harmful to the brain's health?

As well as the exercises that can keep your brain healthy, there are harmful activities that can compromise your cognitive health. For example:

  • Smoking –.this accelerates ageing of the brain.
  • Obesity is linked to reduced cognitive function.
  • High blood pressure and diabetes – this is shown to negatively impact cognitive health.

Looking after your brain health can start at any age, and appears to be as much to do with the cumulative effect of lifestyle choices as it is to do with genetics. Even later in life, the choices you can make will have lasting impact on good cognitive health.