Boosting Your Brain’s Vitality at Any Age

It’s well known that being optimistic can reduce stress. And, research has shown a glass-half-full attitude can lead to a reduction of pain experienced from chronic illnesses like arthritis and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Experts say staying positive can also help you live longer, with researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, finding optimistic people decreased their risk of early death by 50 percent compared with those who leaned more toward pessimism.

Steve Klein of Cicero, New York, agrees. “I believe a big part of why I feel young is because I ‘think’ young.”

Klein doesn’t let his age or occasional creaky joint get him down. “I live everyday to the fullest and look forward to the adventure tomorrow will bring,” he says. And that attitude, experts say, isn’t just good for Klein’s mood.

Opt for a Good Mood

While optimism is important for keeping your body healthy and strong, it plays a pretty important role in keeping your brain healthy and vital, too. Staying positive, say experts, fights the “blues” and prevents depression. Good news since depression has been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Christian Pirtle, PhD, a geriatric care manager in Syracuse, New York, says an optimistic outlook isn’t hard to achieve. And, that a few simple “optimism exercises” can yield a big reward. “Optimism exercises don’t have to be formal,” she says, “You can increase your attitude just by taking a brisk walk, petting your dog, or playing with grandchildren in the outdoors.” Anything that lets you release negativity, and experience calm, peaceful thoughts can go a long way toward becoming—and staying—positive.

There’s also no set time limit or demand for doing optimism exercises. Pirtle says you can do them as often as you’d like. “Unlike aerobics or weight training, you can exercise your optimism anywhere and anytime it suits you.”

Boosting Your Brain

There are also some specific activities that can boost your brain’s vitality. Yoga, research has found, improves cognitive functions including memory. Registered yoga teacher, Jennifer Edwards MFA, RYT in New York City, New York, says, “Practicing yoga trains your brain to stay focused.” It requires you to concentrate on your body’s movement and breathing, while tuning out “outside” distractions. “That focusing,” says Edwards, “can improve your brain’s ability to function during the day.”

Yoga also promotes relaxation and eases stress, something David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist, and assistant professor at the department of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says is very good for your brain’s health and vitality. “Stress can wear down your brain’s cognitive abilities. So anything you can do to eliminate stress will help keep your brain sharp.”

“Another powerful tool to rev up your vitality is meditation. It clears your mind and lets you concentrate on being peaceful,” says Pirtle. Scientists agree. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found regular meditation slows the normal age-related decline of brain cells. Meditating daily also, according to Harvard researchers, reduces normal age-related thinning in regions of the brain thought to be involved in integrating emotional and cognitive processes.

Pirtle says activities like yoga and meditation, which require concentration and focus, are good for your brain in indirect ways, too. “We breathe every day, but, consciously and deliberately thinking about breathing while meditating or doing yoga increases lung function,” she says. That increased lung function increases oxygen in blood that circulates through your body, including in your brain. Says Pirtle, “Oxygen-rich blood keeps the brain healthy and increases alertness.”

A Vital Spirit

Participating in religious or spiritual activities can also keep your brain humming along smoothly. “The rituals of services and the social elements of being part of a congregation stimulate your brain,” says Pirtle, “The sense of belonging, and being able to connect with others who share your beliefs heightens alertness, which keeps your brain engaged in daily activities.”

Being spiritual or religious can also perk up your outlook. British researchers found seniors with chronic diseases who attend religious services, or pray on their own, increased optimism about their overall health.

But, you don’t necessarily have to leave your house or attend formal religious services for your brain to soak up the benefits of spirituality. Dr. Pirtle says the concentration and focus required to pray anywhere, in your home, car, or shower, and to live a life that’s in line you’re your spiritual beliefs is good for your brain.

Source: Gina Roberts-Grey has covered health, consumer issues, and celebrities for more than a decade, in fact, there’s hardly a health topic she hasn’t covered. She also writes the blog celebrityhealthminute.com.