By Meredith Sheldon

As we get older, we change. Our bodies change. Our behaviors change. Our friend groups and social activities change. And, of course, our brains also change. With age, it is important to keep our minds strong and stimulated.

Mental acuity, according to Dr. Norman Abeles, is how sharp and clear your mind processes and responds to things. It assesses your critical thinking skills, problem solving skills and overall cognitive abilities. Throughout life it is normal for mental acuity to decline. But, do not fret. Abeles, an aging specialist and professor of psychology at Michigan State University, said there are an array of things you can do to keep your brain healthy and strong as you get older.

Go for walks

Exercise and physical activity are crucial for maintaining proper heart health and weight, but it can also help your mental health. Walking down the street or even around the mall with friends are simple and fun ways to stay active as you get older. “I don’t mean just going on the treadmill,” said Abeles. Memory recall changes with age and staying in shape helps to keep these skills sharp.

Stay socially active

While it is important to keep your body active, it is also important to stay socially active. Socializing is the key to keeping your brain up to speed. Abeles said a major factor in mental acuity decline is depression. This is common among seniors who are very lonely. Schedule lunch with a group of friends a few times a week. Play bingo or do yoga at the ElderCare of Alachua County Senior Recreation Center. Go to the Oaks Mall with a neighbor. Do water aerobics with a group of friends at the 300 Club in town. The more social you are, the stronger your mind will be as you age.

Challenge yourself

Abeles said there are two positives to aging: wisdom and creativity. These two things will carry with you for life. But, memory, recall and other cognitive skills decline. One way to keep your brain functioning well with age is to challenge it.

Long-term memory declines the most with age, said Abeles. Stimulate your mind by playing word jumbles. Solve crossword puzzles in the newspaper. Play games and challenge your brain a bit to keep your memory and mental quickness in check. “Mental acuity will stay with you for a long time short of getting various diseases,” he said. “You stimulate your brain automatically when you are young, but as you get older, you have to make more of an effort.”

Stay positive

Aging comes with some struggles, but it also comes with some rewards. Abeles said stress and depression are common factors to avoid to keep you from losing your mental acuity. A positive attitude will keep your brain healthy and happy. This can keep you from feeling sad or lonely and will keep your mind alert.

Stay busy

The best thing to do is to keep up with activities. Abeles recommends finding a hobby, working part-time, playing a card game with friends, volunteering with children or reading to the blind.

The effects of mental acuity and aging change from person to person. However, these changes are slow, and staying busy can keep your mind from deteriorating at a faster rate. “Keeping active in terms of work or activities are much more likely to increase your mental acuity,” he said. “Don’t sit at home after retirement and just watch TV. As long as you are physically capable of doing activities, you should be able to function fairly well for a long time.”