Decisions, decisions: There are hundreds, maybe thousands we have to make each day. And with that many choices to make, it's easy for decision fatigue to worsen as the day goes on.
"As people make more decisions throughout the day, their ability to make quality decisions decreases," says Raya Kheirbek, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
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"Our brains can only handle so much information and cognitive processing at any given time. When we are faced with a large number of decisions, our brains can become overwhelmed and exhausted."
But even though making decisions can get harder in any given day, over tie as we age, the process actually starts to get easier. Keep reading to learn why.
Reasons You Get Better at Decision-Making With Age
As the popular phrase goes, the older you get, the wiser you are. With age comes more life experience and knowledge that can improve decision-making abilities and behaviors.
According to a December 2017 review in Gerontology, for example, older people tend to make decisions more carefully instead of impulsively.
"Older adults tend to be less impulsive and more thoughtful in their decision-making. So decisions are more deliberate and considered choices, Dr. Kheirbek says.
1. You've Gained Wisdom From Experiences
As we age, we accumulate more experiences, including those we may see as either successes or failures. This can help you better understand the consequences of your decisions and lead to more informed choices in the future, Dr. Kheirbek says.
"Having experienced a wide range of situations and challenges can give older adults a better sense of what works and what doesn't when it comes to decision-making."
What also improves is your judgment, Dr. Kheirbek says. Older adults may be better at assessing people and situations, and that can help them to make more accurate and effective decisions.
"They may be better able to weigh the risks and benefits of different options and to anticipate the consequences of their choices."
2. You're Better at Regulating Your Emotions
As life goes on, people tend to become more mature and more skilled in emotional regulation. This in turn can help you make decisions more rationally and without being overly influenced by your feelings.
"Improved emotional regulation comes with age," Dr. Kheirbek says. "People often learn to control their emotions and make decisions based on logic rather than letting their feelings get in the way."
3. You Prioritize Differently
Older adults also often have a better sense of what is important and what is not. "This can help them to focus on the most critical decisions and to avoid wasting time and energy on less important ones," Dr. Kheirbek says.
You also have greater perspective on things that matter, a broader viewpoint on life that can help with making decisions that are more aligned with long-term goals and values.
"They may be less likely to make impulsive decisions or to be swayed by short-term gains," Dr. Kheirbek says.
6 Ways to Support Brain Health and Decision-Making as You Age
To help ensure decisions come easily to you as you age, keep these brain-health tips in mind.
1. Stay Active
There are many benefits to regular physical activity like reduced risk of chronic illness and improved brain health, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exercise can help to improve brain function and memory, reduce the risk of cognitive decline and improve mood and overall wellbeing, Dr. Kheirbek says.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week, according to the Mayo Clinic.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats can provide essential nutrients to support brain health that are key in protecting your white matter against cognitive decline, Dr. Kheirbek says.
Aim to limit your intake of processed foods, like sugary drinks and foods high in saturated and trans fats.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in brain health, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It's essential for brain function, memory consolidation, focus and concentration. Adults should aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, per the CDC.
Establishing a regular sleep routine can help you make sure you're getting plenty of shut-eye, Dr. Kheirbek says.
4. Manage Stress
"Chronic stress can have negative effects on brain function and decision-making," Dr. Kheirbek says. She suggests practicing stress-reducing techniques like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing or yoga to help manage stress and improve cognitive function.
Creating and maintaining social connections has proven long-term benefits, according to an October 2015 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Social support and feeling connected with others can improve overall health and longevity.
"Engaging in social activities can help to support brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline," Dr. Kheirbek says.
"Join a club or organization, volunteer or participate in community events to stay connected."
6. Keep Your Mind Active
On top of physical activity, your brain needs exercise, too. According to Dr. Kheirbek, engaging in mentally stimulating activities can support brain health. Consider reading, crossword puzzles or learning a new skill or hobby to keep your mind sharp.
"Stay engaged in work or other activities that challenge the brain and keep you mentally stimulated," she says. "This can help to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline."
- Mayo Clinic: "How Much Should the Average Adult Exercise Every Day?"
- CDC: "Benefits of Physical Activity"
- NINDS: "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep"
- CDC: "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness"
- Gerontology: "Aging and Decision-Making: A Conceptual Framework for Future Research - A Mini-Review"
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