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Healthy Aging - Emotional and Mental Vitality

Emotional and mental vitality are closely tied to physical vitality—just as your mind has powerful effects on your body, so your physical state affects how you feel and think. Social contact can also make a big difference in how you feel.

Replacing a "lost" activity is a key to staying active and feeling good about yourself. For instance, if you can no longer run, you might try walking, biking, and/or swimming. And if your favorite activity was dancing, you might try something else that combines social and physical activity, such as joining a water aerobics class. Replacing lost activities can help you keep a positive attitude and sense of well-being over time, even if aging and changes in your health mean you can not do all the things you used to do.

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Physical activity. Protect or improve your emotional and cognitive health with regular physical activity. While physical activity produces chemicals in the body that promote emotional well-being, inactivity can make depression, anxiety, and stress worse. Research has been done to link physical activity and the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Adults who are physically active may be less likely to get Alzheimer's disease or dementia than adults who are not physically active.2

Social activity. Protect or improve your emotional health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the greater community. Whether physically healthy or ill, people who feel connected to others are more likely to thrive than those who are socially isolated. Volunteering in your community and sharing your wisdom and talents with others is a gratifying and meaningful way to enrich your life.

Mental activity. Protect or improve your memory and mental sharpness by:

  • Challenging your intellect on a daily basis. Read, learn a new musical instrument or language, do crossword puzzles, or play games of strategy with others. Just like an active body, an active brain continues to develop and thrive, while an inactive brain loses its power over time.
  • Helping your memory along. Write down dates, names, and other important information that you easily forget. Use routine and repetition. For example, keep daily items such as keys and eyeglasses in a specific place. And when you meet someone new, picture that person while you repeat his or her name out loud to others or to yourself several times to commit it to memory. (No matter what your age, having too much on your mind can keep you from remembering new information. And as you age, it is normal to take longer to retrieve new information from your memory bank.)
  • Preventing depression, which is a common yet treatable cause of cognitive decline in older people. In addition to getting regular physical activity and social contact, avoid the depressant effect of alcohol and sedative use, eat healthy meals and snacks, and include meaningful activity in your daily life (such as learning, creating, working, volunteering). If you think you have depression, seek professional help—antidepressant medicine or counseling or both are effective treatments for depression. For more information, see the topic Depression. If you find that a physical condition or disability is making your depressed mood worse, get the medical treatment you need.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking may speed mental decline. This connection was identified in a large study comparing smokers and nonsmokers age 65 and over.3 If you smoke and would like to stop, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
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