How does he keep it up at age 101? While genetics and luck are a good headstart, he says, stimulating your mind (at all ages) is crucial for staying mentally sharp and keeping your brain healthy as you age. Here, he shares his four best pieces of brain health advice.
- Howard Tucker, MD, neurologist
The neurologist’s best tips for brain health
1. Engage in something thought-provoking and enjoyable
Dr. Tucker says that he has no plans to retire. “My work keeps me engaged and requires me to think through problems,” he says. Making a diagnosis, creating a treatment plan, and helping patients are all tasks he enjoys.
He encourages other retirement-age folks to do the same, if they can. “If you are unable to continue working during your later years, I suggest engaging in an activity you enjoy,” he adds, “whether that be meaningful volunteer work, a hobby, or educational courses, to keep your mind sharp.” One study that followed adults ages 59 to 79 found that learning a new language led to greater neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to make new synaptic connections.
2. Interact with other people
The power of connection can’t be understated for well-being. “I believe social interaction is another key component to keeping one’s mind sharp,” he says. For example, he’s intentional about speaking with colleagues as well as spending time with friends and family almost every day. “I enjoy participating in interesting conversations and still learn something new from others everyday,” he says.
Interaction is important to be proactive about because older adults are more likely than younger folks to at experience social isolation, which is known to increase the risk of dementia. And research has shown that staying connected to others has major positive benefits for our physical health, including brain health (and mental health).
3. Adjust your mindset
When you’re not feeling too great about your life, getting caught up in how old you are can be an especially easy thing to do. Dr. Tucker encourages folks to be mindful of how much they think about their age, though.
“I recognize that I am 101 years old, but I don’t dwell on it,” he says. Instead, he focuses more on being grateful for how many years he’s lived, as well as the experiences he’s had along the way (and is still having now). This doesn’t help only Dr. Tucker, either: Research backs up how gratitude can help people live longer.
“You die once but live daily, so why not make the most of it?” he says, adding that living each day with a youthful attitude helps him to feel younger than he is.
4. Create sustainable habits
Dr. Tucker doesn't believe you can “cheat the system,” so to speak, when it comes to longevity. “I don’t believe in any fad diets, miracle cures, or specific exercise routines that promise you’ll live to 100,” he says.
Rather, he encourages health-promoting behaviors and moderation. For example, he listens to his body and gets a couple of miles in on the treadmill most days of the week. Finding sustainable healthy habits will keep you from burning out or overdoing it.
What keeps him working
Ultimately, Dr. Tucker is still active in his career because he wants to be. “I enjoy what I do,” he says. “My work is gratifying.” He loves organizing his thoughts and reviewing medical subjects when teaching medical residents and students. He loves thinking through problems, helping people, and learning new things.
“I am fortunate to still be able to work and stay current on the latest advancements and treatments in neurology,” he adds. Of course he knows he's not your typical senior citizen, which is why he's allowed his grandson to capture footage for an upcoming documentary about Dr. Tucker and his work called “What’s Next?”
Loving what you do is the ultimate key, according to Dr. Tucker. “The excitement of learning new things, meeting new people, and helping patients keeps me going,” he says.
He feels thankful for the luck he’s had in finding a job he’s so passionate about. “Enthusiasm about your work and personal life, and having a sense of purpose, will naturally lead to motivation,” he says. (That’s intrinsic motivation for you!) “That’s all there is to it.”
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