by Philip Nowicki, PhD, Alzheimer’s Project Board Member
For six years, I was a full-time, 24/7 caregiver for my wife, Delane, who had Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away in March 2017. It was a very lonely, isolating experience. In September 2017, at the age of 68, I became a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at FSU.
OLLI is a scholarly program for adults over 50 designed to expand their intellectual horizons and engage in social activities. Being an active OLLI member encompasses the foremost pillars to a healthy brain: physical exercise, mental fitness, socialization, and even diet. OLLI classes, clubs, and activities offer all of these benefits.
The Pillars of a Healthy Brain
It is a well-known fact that lifestyle has a profound effect on brain health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise improves blood flow and memory; stimulates chemical changes in the brain and enhances learning, mood and thinking.
Mental exercise is just as critical as physical exercise in keeping your brain fit and healthy. Further education at any stage of life helps reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Challenging your mind by doing something new helps improve your brain’s functioning, promotes new brain cell growth, and decreases your likelihood of developing dementia.
As you grow older, your brain is exposed to more harmful stress due to lifestyle and environmental factors. This results in a process called oxidation, which damages brain cells. Food rich in antioxidants can help fend off the harmful effects of oxidation in your brain.
Leading an active social life can protect you against memory loss. Spending time with others and engaging in stimulating conversation are good for your brain health. Studies have shown that those with the most social interaction in their community experience the slowest rate of memory decline.
For this fall semester, OLLI members can reap great physical health benefits by joining the Walking Club, taking chair yoga classes or learning to play pickleball. They can boost their brains’ health by joining the Book Club or by taking Spanish, French or Italian classes to learn a new language. They can also attend lectures and take other classes on a wide array of interesting topics. Also, during this semester, OLLI members can experience what it is like to have Alzheimer’s by taking the Virtual Dementia Tour. Through OLLI Cooks, they can learn to prepare a delicious Mediterranean dinner. So, check out the fall catalog, become an OLLI member and give it a spin. Your brain will thank you!