The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) has released a new report showing that mental well-being has a key relationship with better brain health in older adults. The findings show that by feeling positive, having a sense of purpose and having a calm outlook can actively reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in later life.

The GCBH of which Age UK is a founding collaborator, is an independent international group looking at brain health issues, and has revealed that steps can be taken to protect your future mental wellbeing as you age, in the same way you can your physical health.

It is well known that by exercising regularly, eating well and living a healthy lifestyle we can keep our bodies fit for longer, and the new research shows that this is also true of our brains, and by looking after our mental health throughout our lives we can keep our brain function as good as possible in later life.

The converse is also true, that negative feelings, stress and depression may have a longer term effect on the ability to think and reason, communicate with others and manage our emotions when we are older.
The research also shows that often looking after our physical health has the knock-on effect of benefiting brain health, as the right foods and exercise help to minimise stress and anxiety, and lead us to feeling good about ourselves.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK told Independent Living: “Even though some people’s thinking skills can decline as we get older – it isn’t an inevitable part of ageing, and we’re learning more and more about what impacts on brain ageing, and what we can do to maintain good brain health later in life.

“The importance of this report is the connection it makes between positive mental wellbeing and better thinking skills in later life, because our sense of mental wellbeing is something we can take steps to improve in the same way that avoiding things like smoking, excess alcohol or a poor diet can help to reduce the risk of developing some forms of dementia and cognitive decline”.

Feel-good tips to increase mental wellbeing:

– Having a good social circle is an easy way to increase your happiness, be it, family or friends, neighbours or people you bump into regularly. Taking time out to chat to others, share news, or give passing compliments has been shown to boost cheerfulness and optimism.

– Physical activity is well known as an antidote to depression and anxiety as it helps to combat stress, releases endorphins, and makes you feel good about yourself. Running or walking with a friend or joining an exercise class can add a social element, or exercising alone can give the mental space that is needed to unwind and de-clutter the mind.

– Eating well will ensure the body is working at its best and will mean that the brain is getting all the nutrients it needs. In addition the act of cooking fresh food is often not only relaxing, but the element of self-care adds to the positivity for the mind. Minimising alcohol content will also help improve mood.

– Modern life all too often moves very fast and stress comes from having multiple decisions to make each day, and input from thousands of sources. Taking time out each day to actively rest the mind through mediation or just a calm breathing will help to unwind the mind and give some mental space to process or let go of unnecessary or negative thoughts.

– Sleep is key to good mental health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night, but also focus on how well you sleep. There are lots of ways to improve the quality of sleep ensuring it is as healing and restoring as possible. Avoiding the white light of screens for an hour before bed, fitting black-out curtains, engaging in relaxing activities before bed, and having natural bedding to ensure the sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible are all good first steps to getting a good nights’ sleep.

– It has been shown that time spent in the garden is extremely good for mental well-being, and even just caring for one plant can improve happiness. Gardening includes the benefit of fresh air, exercise and vitamin D as well as just being in the great outdoors.

– Caring for a pets, especially one that returns your love unconditionally is known to be really good for lowering stress levels. Having a pet to look after can also provide a sense of purpose.

– Spend time thinking about what makes you happy and aim to do something you enjoy every day, even if it is something small. Book in things to look forward to, like trips, outings or visits to friends, and try out new things that you haven’t done before.