Staying Sharp As We Age

CBS/The Early Show
Some decrease in brain function is normal as we get older. But there are things you can do to delay and minimize those effects.

In The Early Show's "Young at Heart" segment Tuesday, Dr. Robert Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, offered advice on keeping your mind in shape as you age.

He's living proof of what could happen when those tips are followed, looking and sounding sharp in his late 70s.

With 77 million baby boomers in the United States, and the first of them turning 60 this year, his pointers couldn't be more timely.

Butler says people frequently become inactive when they retire, or they stop bothering to take care of themselves or learn new things, and that eventually takes a toll on the brain's ability to function.

But, he observes, there's "a lot, a lot" we can do to maintain our mental abilities. "It's in our control," he says.

For example, we can very much exercise our brain: "There are learning centers going up all over the United States where people can take classes. They can learn a new language; they can learn a musical instrument. And all of those provide an opportunity for people to keep that mind active. You know, 'Use it or lose it' applies to the mind, just as it does to the body. All of those things revitalize the brain."

Another suggestion? Stay socially involved.

"Being connected, being in relationships with other people, being engaged with life itself is so important, rather than just sitting back and becoming reclusive, isolated, and not involving yourself with other people or with the world's opportunities to do something you passionately care about," he says.

Butler also advises that you stay active and sweat: "There are even studies, MRIs that demonstrate that blood flow will increase if one is physically active. The Romans knew that 2,000 years ago. They said, 'A sound mind in a sound body.' So, being physically active itself helps promote good intellectual function.

"It has to be vigorous. It doesn't mean you have to run, but you should fast-walk. You should at least begin to have a little bit of perspiration, something that shows you're really doing something that's reasonably vigorous and oxygenating your body."

Butler also advocates that you nourish your brain: "Our grandparents often said, 'Fish are brain food.' We now know that Omega-3 fatty acids are in fish. So, they were right. And we know that keeping the brain active, just as the whole body has to be actively metabolizing good nutrients, is very important for brain function."

Asked about junk food, Butler answered: "Unfortunately, if you fill yourself up with junk food, you're not eating fruits and vegetables and, therefore, not eating the fish. It's a replacement phenomenon where, by and large, all you're eating is empty calories."