When we think about growing old, most of us hope that we can keep our minds alert.

Brain performance does decrease with age, but the good news is that you can influence how fast that process advances.

If you train your brain, you can in some cases even delay the onset of dementia.

Below, a few expert tips on how to keep your brain fit.

Using one’s skills

“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” says German brain trainer Ursula Lenz, who works with elderly patients.

People who do not use their skills will eventually lose them. They will get rusty, so to speak.

However, the opposite is also true: if you stay mentally active, you will be able to strengthen the connections between your neurons and keep learning new things well into your old age.

Exercising often

“Exercise is probably the decisive lifestyle factor for preventing dementia,” says Stuttgart-based Dr Andrej Zeyfang, who specialises in diabetes and senior health.

“It’s not about doing lots of sport,” he warns, however. What you need is physical activity: taking walks, climbing stairs, cycling.

Lenz further recommends “brain-walking” – that is, combining exercise with memory training.

It works best if you do it with someone else: You both take a walk together, and for example, during the walk, take turns counting down from 1,000 by threes, thinking of people whose first names and surnames begin with the same letter, or coming up with words with certain endings.

What you eat is extremely important for keeping your brain in good shape. Photo: AFP

Eating a healthy diet

What you eat is extremely important for keeping your brain in good shape.

“Up to 30% of the calories we consume flow to brain functions,” says Christine Eichler, head doctor at the Evangelical Centre for Geriatric Medicine in the German city of Potsdam.

That is why it is important to have a balanced diet. Especially recommended is the Mediterra-nean diet, which includes a lot of healthy oils with mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fresh vegetables and fish.

Vitamin B is also important for the chemical messengers in the brain, including the so-called “happy hormone” dopamine.

If you often feel tired or worn out and have trouble concentrating, you may lack B-complex vitamins, Dr Eichler says. “In that case, you can just take them as a nutritional supplement, since the body cannot save most of the B vitamins,” she notes.

Training with a goal

This refers to brain training, or so-called Mental Activation Training (MAT).

“This trains short-term information processing, an ability we need in everyday life for things such as parking ticket machines,” Dr Zeyfang explains. “A few minutes per day are enough.”

However, MAT is not recommended for people who are already suffering from dementia.

Breaking routine

Everyone should make sure their life does not become too monotonous, Lenz recommends. “Always doing the same thing has negative effects on our brains,” she says.

A few changes can make a big difference.

You can take a different route to the bus stop. If you are right-handed, try writing your shopping list with your left hand, and if you are left-handed, you can sometimes brush your teeth with your right hand: The idea is to use your non-dominant hand more often.

“With small changes in everyday life, you can already do something for your mental fitness,” Lenz says.

Getting treatment for diabetes

Diabetes and dementia go together, Dr Zeyfang says.

Both chronically higher blood sugar levels, such as those found in untreated or ill-treated type 2 diabetes, and sometimes difficult low blood sugar levels, such as those that can emerge when treatment for type 2 diabetes is too strict, increase the risk of suffering dementia later on, experts say.

Seeking out connections

The brain is most active during conversation with other people.

“You need to listen and react. That is demanding for the brain,” Dr Eichler notes. That is why social relations are important.

Ideally, you should talk to friends, neighbours or relatives every day. Playing a musical instrument is also good for keeping the brain in shape.

Another decisive factor, whatever your age, is to remain open to learning new things, which will keep you active both mentally and physically. – dpa