Here are my Top Ten Take-aways from Brain Rules for Aging Well:
1. SOCIALIZE A LOT: Having a long marriage and lots of friends will keep your brain young. Try to have friends of all ages, including children. Socializing is like vitamins for the brain. Even video chats are better than no socializing (though in person socializing is best). Socializing reduces stress and helps build brain strength. Reducing stress helps your immune system. If you seek to understand a different perspective, that is a good workout for your brain.
Dance class is great for your brain, as well as for posture and balance. Human touch is very important. Keep dancing into old age!
A chapter near end of book describes a hypothetical typical day of a 70-year-old that incorporates all of these ideas and suggestions. Make lifestyle changes permanent changes. "To change everything, start anywhere."
There is a ton more in this book than I have described, and you might find other take-aways that speak to you. This book is not quite as readable as the original Brain Rules (and I do recommend that you read the original book first), but it is jam packed with information. There is plenty of food for thought in this book, and plenty of great advice about living as well as possible as long as possible. I give it 5 stars.
Loneliness increases with age; it is the single greatest risk factor for clinical depression. That increases the risks to your immune system and the risk of dementia.
2. HAPPINESS/GULLIBILITY: in general, people become happier as they age (subject to life experiences). Our memories of and desire for optimistic input get more intense as we age. Present happiness becomes more important to older people than future events. BUT BEWARE: This same tendency can make us more gullible and more likely to be victims of scams.
Depression is NOT common for healthy seniors. It is more common for seniors with impaired health.
3. PRACTICE OPTIMISM; PRACTICE GRATITUDE. Schedule gratitude visits with people who mean a lot to you. Every evening, write down three positive things that happened that day. Do this for at least a week. Look at your list first thing the following morning. Martin Seligmann's book Flourish has more about this.
4. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness not only soothes us, it improves our brains. Chronic stress is very hard for humans; our fight or flight system is designed for short term stress. Cortisol damages our brain if it hangs around too long. Mindfulness helps our brains.
Mindfulness extends life; it helps you sleep better and have less depression and anxiety. It actually alters the ability of the aging brain to switch between tasks and makes the mind more efficient. This is a really big deal as we age!
I have tried to meditate over the years, and I have never been very good at it. I always think I should be doing something productive instead! This book makes the case that meditation and mindfulness ARE productive! Still, I loved this quote:
"Come on, inner peace, I don’t have all damn day!" :)
At WWIT, a participant recommended using guided meditations to get used to meditating. People mentioned these apps for meditation: Insight Timer, Head Space, and Calm. That is a great idea!
5. MEMORY: There are many different kinds of memory. Some improve as we age, others get worse. Vocabulary gets better; procedural memory gets better. Short term memory and working memory can get worse.
How to help your brain? It is never too late to learn or to teach! Go back to school! Take a class! Learn a language! Read every day! Engage! Find people who do not agree with you and regularly argue with them! Productive engagement keeps memory batteries from draining. It is very powerful.
Are you bilingual? Bilingual people perform significantly better on cognitive tests, no matter when the language was learned. Being bilingual delays dementia!
Music training helps cognition. Learn to play an instrument!
Voracious reading of books--3.5 hours a day or more--is great for your brain!
Teaching others is good for your brain!
6. SPECIAL VIDEO GAMES: There are special video games that help certain parts of your brain stay strong; they help with speed of processing and help prevent dementia. "Beep Seeker", "Night Driver", "Neuro Racer." I never thought I would be recommending video games for something like this, but if they work, let’s try them!
7. EXERCISE: I loved this quote: "Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness." A little exercise goes a long way to help your brain; even 30 minutes, 2-3 times a week, walking fast will make a big difference to your brain. (You probably need to do more exercise than that to maintain and improve your physical health.) Strength training 2-3 times a week helps too.
8. DIET: Mediterranean diet, combined with DASH diet. Berries, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish. The brain is only 2% of body weight, but consumes 20% of what we eat.
9. SLEEP: People's sleep needs vary. We sleep to learn; we consolidate the day's experiences into memory. Also, when we sleep, junk and wastes get cleaned out of our brains. Does this help prevent dementia? Experts believe so. Our sleep cycle gets more fragmented as we age, especially the part where toxins are washed out of our brains.
Start accruing good sleep habits in young adulthood and middle age; that will help reduce cognitive decline as you age.
General rule: Most people should get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night. There are tips for sleeping well (and I have reviewed several other books that focus solely on sleep).
10. NEVER RETIRE! AND BE SURE TO REMINISCE!
Retirement is actually quite stressful. It increases your probability of dying. Mental and physical abilities decline after retirement. For every year you work past age 60, your risk of dementia goes down 3.2%. Work is great for your brain! Social networks are larger for working people.
Nostalgic experiences have many cognitive benefits. Nostalgia boosts "social connectedness" scores. Feelings of well-being increase. Positive memories take priority. More than memory is activated with nostalgia.
Have you seen the movie Cocoon? Experiments have been done where older people who are fairly decrepit are immersed in an environment that takes them back several decades—they are surrounded with books, magazines, music, TV and movies from an earlier era. After several days of this, their physical health was vastly improved; they stopped using canes and other aids, and were even playing touch football! It was like they went back in time, almost literally!
Golden age: Late teens and early 20s. These are the most meaningful experiences of your life. Music from your age 15-25; movies; politics; this is what we remember best. High school and college years. Create a "reminisce room."
This explains why our college friends are so important to us, and why reunions with college friends are so much fun!