Photo: Getty Images

Staying active as you age isn’t just about physical fitness – it’s also about being engaged in your communities. One way to maintain that interaction is through conversation with family, friends, and acquaintances. Whether spontaneous or planned, this conversation can help you feel connected and protect your brain against the cognitive decline that comes with age.

The Link: Conversation for Cognitive Function

Keeping your brain agile and strong isn’t just about completing the Sunday crossword or getting plenty of sleep. Having a robust social network and regularly spending time in conversation and connecting with these people can have a marked effect on your cognitive health. A study from 2011 showed as much as “a 70 percent reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in people who were frequently socially active compared with those who were less connected.” Researchers at Harvard suggest that this decrease might be because “frequent engagement helps strengthen neural networks, slowing normal age-related declines.” Making time for conversation with friends isn’t just enjoyable; it’s also healthy.

Conversation that Counts

So you’d like to help slow any cognitive decline, and you know that conversation helps – great! But does just any exchange add to your brain’s strength and stability? Yes! Anything that gets your brain working to connect with others and carry your end of a conversation is productive, from mundane chats about the weather to deeper heart-to-hearts. One study shares that the “key form of social support [is] listener availability and it [is] highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.” This finding suggests that you need to be on the speaking end of the conversation, at least some of the time, to get the benefits of active listeners. If you’re feeling nervous about stepping outside of your comfort zone or want more ideas for conversation topics, here are a few tips to get started.

Photo: Getty Images

Tips for Finding Your Voice

Keep up with current events

Current events are one of the best conversation-starters for acquaintances who have not become friends yet, but you see semi-regularly. Introduce slightly more exciting topics (although sometimes the weather is fascinating!) but not as controversial as politics if you’d like to keep the conversation moving but lighthearted. Local events and milestones are a great place to start, so keep up by watching your local news nightly. You can also find podcasts and websites that focus on “good news” so that you’re the acquaintance who brings some joy to the day. This method also has a two-for-one benefit: you’ll amass an arsenal of conversation topics, and you’ll strengthen your cognitive function by continuing to learn new things.

Make notes about exciting stories

Consider making notes about exciting stories you’d like to share with your closest family and friends. Often, we read an interesting story, hear a funny joke, or see an unusual event but forget about it when we have a chance to share it with others. Keeping a small notebook in your pocket or using a notes app on your phone is a great way to keep track of these anecdotes. Make a habit of flipping to these pages when you’re on the phone or visiting with your closest ones.

Ask questions

If you find yourself grasping for something to add to the conversation, don’t forget the power of questions! These inquiries don’t have to be too personal or profound. Most people love to share their opinions. Ask for someone’s favorite part of the movie or a restaurant recommendation. These are great ways to break the ice.

Develop a routine

Develop a routine that includes when and how you chat with your social circle. Perhaps your friends catch up over a game of cards weekly, or you video call your grandkids during Sunday dinner. Consider routines beyond these close connections, too. If you grocery shop at the same time every week, develop a relationship with the employees and check in as you check out. By putting conversation on your calendar, you’ll more easily incorporate it into your everyday life.

By making intentional space for conversation in your life, you’ll improve your emotional and mental wellbeing.

The Active Aging Series is brought to you by our partner, Cambrian Homecare. Cambrian Homecare has been assisting individuals to stay independent in their homes for 25 years. Flexible experience you can trust, when the best place is still at home.