3: Add strength training
Strength or resistance training — using free weights, bands or machines — does more than bulk up your biceps. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last year found that when women 70- to 80-years-old, who already had symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, did one to two hours of weight training two days a week for six months, they had better focus and decision-making skills than those in a control group who did only balance and toning exercises. They also were able to resolve conflicts more readily. The benefits went beyond simply stemming memory loss, researchers said, to actual improvements.
- Especially if you have limited mobility or haven't lifted weights in more decades than you'd care to count, go easy, at least to start. Stretch before and after your workout.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes twice a week, and work all the major muscle groups — arms, shoulders and chest; abdomen and back; hips and legs.
- If you don't want to pay for a gym membership, buy your own hand weights and resistance bands. Then stow them next to the couch so you can squeeze in reps while you watch the news or catch up on Mad Men.
- If you're thinking "There's got to be an app for that," you're right! Look for inexpensive watches, earbuds and bracelets with sensors that sync to your smartphone and record data about your weight, sleep habits, vital signs and how many steps you take each day. Log on to your computer for graphs and charts that show how much you've accomplished and how far you have to go. Think of your smartphone as your personal trainer, cajoling you to stick with the program even when you're convinced you can't.
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