Use It or Lose It: Keeping Your Mind Sharp to Maintain Independence

  • July 19, 2018
Use It or Lose It: Keeping Your Mind Sharp to Maintain Independence

You may have used the phrase “use it or lose it” to describe muscles and the work needed to keep them strong. While this is true, your muscles aren’t the only body parts that abide by that motto—your brain does too.

While the brain is an organ—the most complex in the body—it also functions similarly to a muscle. If you fail to exercise your brain, it will slowly lose its strength and eventually degenerate. As we age, brain deterioration is a common fear, especially because it may cause dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and other mental abilities severe enough to impact your daily life.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, every three seconds someone develops dementia. The numbers are staggering, as an estimated 46.8 million people around the world had dementia in 2015, and 131.5 million people are projected to be living with dementia by 2050.

Although preventing and curing dementia are still being researched, you can keep your mind sharp for as long as possible and remain independent. Research even shows that older adults who were cognitively active on a regular basis were more than two times less likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than older adults who were not as cognitively active. Below are a variety of ways to stay mentally sharp and maintain your independence.

Make Physical Fitness a Priority

Not only does physical activity reduce the risks of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses, it also improves your brain function. According to a recent study by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, a 20-minute exercise promotes memory functions within the brain, as well as basic information processing.

As scientists further their studies, we are finding more and more proof that physical fitness positively affects our brains. Being elderly and active is an essential part of remaining healthy physically as well as mentally. To stay mentally sharp, you must stay physically sharp.

Some Additional Benefits of Physical Activity:

  • Reduces inflammation

  • Reduces insulin resistance

  • Stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells

  • Improves mood

  • Boosts energy

  • Contributes to better sleep

Visit Doctor Regularly

To remain healthy, you need to participate in regular doctor check-ups. It’s recommended to visit your doctor at least once a year, and more often if needed or recommended.

Precautionary Screenings to Have Regularly:

  • Mammograms

  • Colonoscopies

  • Skin checks

  • Cancer screenings

  • Vision/hearing tests

  • Depression evaluations

  • Vaccinations (i.e., flu shot, tetanus, etc.)

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm test (if you were or are a smoker)

Risk Factors to be Aware of and Check Regularly:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Osteoporosis

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Influenza

  • Pneumonia

  • Obesity

Manage Your Stress Levels

High-stress levels affect all parts of your life as well as your physical body. Studies show chronic stress can accelerate the aging process and negatively impact the immune system. Getting older can be stressful, but you can handle it head-on before it damages your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Ways to Reduce Stress:

  • Meditate

  • Socialize

  • Exercise

  • Get a pet

  • Read

  • Laugh

  • Go outside

  • Get a massage

Warning Signs of Stress:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

  • Lack of interest

  • Substance abuse

  • Changes in sleeping habits

  • Changes in appetite

  • Feelings of loneliness, sadness, etc.


When you help others, you also help yourself. This can be true on an emotional level as well as a neurological level, as studies show that giving ultimately has greater brain benefits than receiving. By assisting others, you can keep your brain sharp and functioning properly and positively.

Often, the most frustrating part about getting older is the role reversal—older adults who were once caregivers stepping into the role of being cared for. However, serving others is still possible, as you can be a caregiver again by simple acts of service. For instance, you can make a home-cooked meal for someone having a hard time or too busy to cook. Or, you can simply make a weekly phone call to someone who needs companionship. Flipping your role into the caregiver position can restore a sense of independence.

Challenge Your Brain

Keeping your brain sharp doesn’t have to mean pushing its limits daily. It’s not about participating in difficult brain challenges; it’s about simply challenging and stimulating your brain on a regular basis.

Life easily becomes monotonous, especially if you rely on your day-to-day routine. Routine can be good, but it’s always beneficial to your brain to switch it up a bit and to challenge yourself to something new.

Simple Ways to Change Your Routine and Challenge Your Brain:

  • Drive home a different way than usual

  • Listen to new music

  • Visit a new place

  • Try a creative hobby (i.e., knitting, drawing, crafts, etc.)

  • Memorize something: a song, poetry, a grocery list

  • Organize something messy in your house

  • Play an instrument

  • Take a cooking class

  • Complete a puzzle

  • Play a game (i.e. cards, chess, sudoku, crossword puzzle, etc.)

  • Challenge yourself to a brain teaser

  • Eat with chopsticks (this forces you to focus on your eating and hand movement, which is beneficial to your brain)

  • Read a book out loud

  • Participate in a new sport or activity (water aerobics, walking, cycling, golf, etc.)

These are just a handful of activities for seniors that will keep minds sharp and life exciting. The healthier you are mentally, the healthier you are in all other aspects of your life. Staying mentally sharp is the key to remaining independent.

Stay Protected While Staying Active

If you’re interested in other ways to stay self-sufficient, Medical Guardian’s in-home and mobile medical alert systems help older adults feel more empowered to live their lives on their own terms—independently, and in the comfort of their own homes. With 24/7 connectivity and protection with the simple push of a button, older adults have the peace of mind and confidence to stay active—physically and mentally!

Guest Blog Written by

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Medical Guardian is a leading provider of innovative medical alert systems that empower people to live a life without limits.

KEYWORDS: independence, dementia, alzheimer's disease, physical fitness, volunteer, reduce stress, activities for seniors

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