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Taking care of your mind is essential at any age, but as you get older, it can become even more important in order to help you reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. On top of this, winter can be a particularly difficult time for your mental health. Shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that usually occurs in the fall and winter months.
Luckily, many of the tactics recommended for combatting cognitive decline can also help tackle the symptoms of SAD. So, check out these top tips for looking after your mental health this winter – and for years to come.
Move your body
It sometimes feels like exercise is a silver bullet for health – it brings so many benefits. One such advantage is that it helps keep your brain sharp as you age. Physical activity helps decrease inflammation in the brain as well as increasing a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is vital for growing and maintaining neurons.
Moving more also helps manage SAD by boosting serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good chemicals. It has even been shown to treat mild to moderate depression.
Experts recommend that you aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week (about 20 minutes each day) and include a mix of aerobic activity and strength training.
Stay sociable – even if it’s virtual
According to a report in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, loneliness can increase the risk of dementia in older adults by 50%. Maintaining or building new friendships and relationships is therefore an important part of protecting your brain as you age. It can also help boost your mood and manage symptoms of SAD. Simply talking about what you’re going through can help you feel better – you may even find others are experiencing the same.
SAD is often triggered by a lack of sunlight, so making the most of the daylight hours you do have is key. Consider starting the day with a brisk walk outside. This not only helps you get a good dose of vitamin D but is also an excellent form of aerobic activity. And if you’re able to take your walk in a local park or forest, even better. According to the American Psychological Association, getting out in nature has numerous mental health benefits, including a better mood, improved attention, and lower levels of stress. More than ever, a “mental health walk” is important to incorporate into your day.
Try eating a Mediterranean diet
Something else that has renowned benefits for pretty much every aspect of our health – mental health included – is the Mediterranean diet, which centres around fish and plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil, while limiting red and processed meats. Research from Columbia University found that followers of the Mediterranean diet cut their risk of Alzheimer’s, some by a massive 40%. And that’s not all. This diet can also help with symptoms of SAD, helping to keep your energy levels up and minimize mood swings and energy crashes associated with very sugary foods.
Stimulate your brain
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help protect your brain from cognitive decline. Activities you might want to try could include puzzles or word games like sudoku, crosswords, or play along to the always popular Jeopardy (also available as a board game) and Wheel of Fortune on TV. Learning a new skill like a foreign language or computer skills are also an excellent way of challenging your brain.
Consider light therapy
For those with severe SAD, light therapy may be for you. This is usually prescribed by a doctor and involves sitting in front of a very bright light for a set period of time each morning. The light mimics daylight and can help make up for the lack of sun during winter months, which is the main trigger for SAD.
If you’re interested in light therapy, you can shop our range of lamps here.
The information presented in this blog post is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this post as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for professional counseling care. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.