June 13, 2023

8 Key Learnings for Maintaining Cognitive Health in Older Adults from the National Institute of Aging

6 minute read
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As we age, cognitive health becomes an essential aspect of our overall well-being. The ability to think, learn, and remember clearly allows us to perform everyday activities with ease. Cognitive health is just one facet of brain health, which encompasses various areas such as motor function, emotional function, and tactile function. However, cognitive health is particularly vital for maintaining independence and quality of life in older adults.

To ensure optimal cognitive health as we age, there are several key learnings from scientific research that we can incorporate into our lifestyles. Making these small changes part of our routine could make a significant difference in our cognitive well-being.

1. Take Care of Your Physical Health

Physical health plays a crucial role in maintaining cognitive health. Managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression is essential. Regular health screenings and consultations with healthcare providers help in early detection and effective management of these conditions.

2. Manage High Blood Pressure

Research suggests that preventing or controlling high blood pressure not only benefits the heart but also helps preserve cognitive function. Lowering blood pressure, even below the previous standard target, has been shown to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, a risk factor for dementia.

3. Eat Healthy Foods

A healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean or MIND diet, may reduce the risk of chronic diseases and also contribute to brain health. These diets emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products while limiting solid fats, sugar, and salt.

4. Be Physically Active

Regular physical activity not only improves physical strength and energy levels but also has positive effects on cognitive health. Engaging in aerobic exercises like brisk walking is believed to be more beneficial for cognitive health than nonaerobic activities. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

5. Keep Your Mind Active

Being intellectually engaged can benefit the brain. Engage in mentally stimulating activities like reading, playing games, taking classes, or learning new skills. Although more research is needed to conclusively determine their impact on cognition, these activities can be enjoyable and may lower the risk of Alzheimer's-related cognitive impairment.

6. Stay Connected with Social Activities

Social engagement is linked to improved cognitive function and overall well-being. Participate in social activities, volunteer, and connect with family and friends to combat social isolation and loneliness.

7. Manage Stress

Chronic stress can negatively impact the brain and increase the risk of cognitive decline. Practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness, exercise, journaling, and staying positive can help manage stress and promote resilience.

8. Reduce Risks to Cognitive Health

Several factors can influence cognitive health, including physical and mental health problems, brain injuries, medications, lack of physical activity, poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep problems, and social isolation. Taking steps to prevent or manage these risk factors can contribute to maintaining cognitive health.

While these lifestyle changes can be beneficial, it's essential to remember that cognitive health is a complex interplay of various factors. Not all cases of cognitive decline can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle changes alone. It's crucial to seek professional medical advice and support when necessary.


Maintaining cognitive health is a multifaceted endeavor that involves taking care of our physical and mental well-being, engaging in intellectually stimulating activities, staying socially connected, and managing stress and risk factors. By making these key learnings a part of our daily lives, we can strive to preserve cognitive function and lead fulfilling lives as we age.


National Institute on Aging. Cognitive Health and Older Adults (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults

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