Aging can lead to poor physical, mental, and emotional states in the body and mind.
Increased anxiety, limited mobility, slower thought processes, and, in some cases, the loss of independence are associated with the growing older.
But aging doesn’t always have to result in such negative and heartbreaking consequences.
Look around you — there are healthy, active, happy older people embracing life. They are traveling, working, creating, and being socially engaged with loved ones and their communities.
Aging does not have to be a prison sentence. You don’t have to be held captive by your mind or body. You can age and be free to fully enjoy the spoils of retirement and the company of family.
So what is the secret? What is the key ingredient to staying lively, sharp, and joyful as the years pass?
The answer is simple: brain health.
But keeping your brain healthy isn’t just as easy as focusing on what your brain needs. You brain is affected by the health of other organs, and one in particular we will get to in a bit.
Maintaining your brain health through the aging process results in having the ability to sustain and cultivate a productive, independent, and rich lifestyle.
We will share some easy- to- follow tips on how to assess, maintain, and even increase your brain health in just a moment.
But first, the most important step — knowing where you stand.
Blue… Chair, Hand… Spoon, Rose?
Last week, I challenged Underground Health Researcher Nate Rifkin to show the world just how powerful his brain is by taking a simple yet revealing memory assessment.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is widely used to assess mild cognitive impairment (the transitional stage between normal cognition and dementia) and early Alzheimer’s.
MoCA was first validated by a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and has proven to be an effective tool. It tests skills that decline with the aging and/or the onset of mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s.
It’s only about 10 minutes in length and super easy to take.
You can take the test here.
Knowing your score will inform you of your current cognitive status. If you score outside of the normal range, there are simple things you can do to ward off long term health issues. I’ll share some in a few minutes…
Oh, and here is a bonus. If you beat Nate Rifkin’s score of 29 out of 30, email me your results and you win a prize!
Send your results to email@example.com .
The Heart of Brain Matter
Healthy brains don’t stand on their own. Your brain’s health depends on the health of your entire body.
The heart is arguably the most important component to overall health and directly affects the rest of your organs — particularly your brain.
Having a healthy heart is key to supporting a healthy brain. High blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiovascular issues can affect the functions of the brain.
Ultimately, declining heart health can lead to lower cognitive abilities.
Dr. Patricia Landreth, a board-certified psychiatrist who currently works with dementia patients, had this to say about the importance of heart health in the fight against cognitive decline:
“If you have a history of hypertension [high blood pressure], you certainly are at greater risk for microvascular changes in the brain that would change your cognition over time.”
Starting a healthy heart routine helps to lower the negative effects on the brain.
Lowering your stress and flexing your creative muscles are also key to maintaining a healthy head and heart.
Less Stress, More Art
Creative activities can be a healthy and helpful outlet for everyone, but maybe of significant benefit to people over the age of 60.
A study by the Public Library of Science shows that creating visual art increases the psychological resilience in people over the age of 60. And can even produce positive brain changes! 1
Psychological resilience (PR) is the part of your personality that enables you to control your stress levels and stress-related negative effects on your body. PR also helps you to preserve your healthy and functioning life, even in difficult situations.1
Having a high level of psychological resilience lends to being able to keep up with life tasks — paying bills, taking medications, communicating, planning, etc.
An article by the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics states the following about the importance of visual arts for healthy brain function:
“[Art activities] may augment the skills that older persons retain, enabling them to make meaningful expressions and promoting social and emotional growth. In the increased focus on the building of cognitive reserve and the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia, participation in cognitive and leisure activities is emerging as one of the avenues to maintaining and developing cognitive skills in older age.” 2
Many communities offer adult art classes. If you have the time and means, it could be a very positive social experience and help improve brain health. Check with your local community centers or colleges to find a course schedule.
Not everyone has the time or maybe the ability to get to a class every week but could still benefit from creative activities at home.
Recently, there has been an adult revival of a childhood pastime — coloring books. In fact, a whole line by Johanna Basford can be found here.
Also, you can check at your local arts and crafts store. Some retailers have started carrying them.
No studies have been done on the effects of coloring on the brain, but many participants and psychologists alike claim it helps tremendously with stress and focus.
In fact, Ben Michaelis, a New York- based psychologist said the following about adult coloring:
“Because it’s a centering activity, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is involved with our fear response, actually gets a bit, a little bit of a rest, and it ultimately has a really calming effect over time.” 3
I ordered a coloring book to see if they lived up to the hype.
As an avid painter, I had some serious doubts.
I colored for 15 minutes every afternoon for a week. I felt my anxiety level decrease during and after the 15 minutes of creative activity. In fact, some days, it would reset my focus for the rest of my afternoon.
While it is not as in-depth as other forms of visual art, it is an easy way for anyone to add some creative time to their day. Coloring can be especially enjoyable for people who are unable to participate in more intricate type of art due to declined health or motor skills.
Starting at around $10, adult coloring books are a much more affordable stress reducer than many other forms of visual art.
A coloring I have been working on from Lacy Mucklow’s Color Me Stress-Free.
Are You Experiencing Brain Impairment? Take the Challenge!
Small changes will start to make a difference when you are consistent with healthy habits.
Take the MoCA assessment and record your score.
Then try a two-week brain-boosting regime.
Increase your weekly physical exercise — activity is key to keeping your body functioning at peak performance. We are not suggesting you train for a marathon. Start by adding more steps to your day by walking to places within a reasonable distance. And if that is not an option, at least park at a far point in the parking lot from your desired destination.
Stay away from unnatural foods and increase heart-healthy food sources. Adding in a few leafy-green vegetables to every meal is an easy start. Keeping artificial and processed foods out of your diet will decrease your chances of a declining heart, therefore boosting your brain power.
Take a creative time out every day. Spend at least 15 minutes making visual art — even if it is just doodling or sketching.
At the end of these two weeks, take the test again and see if you have made some improvements. This is an easy way to gauge if you are making strides in the fight against unhealthy aging.
And finally, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know if you made any improvements!
Next week, we will investigate the efficacy, safety, and ingredients in one of the nation’s most used vaccines. You will be shocked by what we find!
Managing editor, Living Well Daily
P.S. Please write in with you questions! I would love to hear from you! email@example.com
 Bolwerk A, Mack-Andrick J, Lang FR, Dörfler A, Maihöfner C. How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. He Y, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(7):e101035. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101035.
 Safar, Laura T. MD, MA STATE OF THE ART AND SCIENCE Use of Art Making in Treating Older Patients with Dementia Virtual Mentor American Medical Association Journal of Ethics August 2014, Volume 16, Number 8: 626-630.