02/18/2016 Mind-Body Health
Exercising your mind may be just as important as exercising your body. Adding brain teasers and learning activities that support mental agility to your weekly routine not only boost your memory, but can also protect against aging and certain types of dementia, and improve the quality of life in your mature years.
Nurturing Nimble Neurons
Staying mentally active throughout your life is essential to keeping your memory sharp and your brain in the best shape possible. There are many activities that can help keep your neurons firing, such as:
- Crossword puzzles
- Memory or strategy games
- Brain teasers
But, if you’re looking for something to really make a big impact on your brain, make continued education a habit.
Keep challenging your brain by engaging in activities and skills that are entirely new to you, to create brand-new neural pathways. In a word: Cross-train. Here are five ideas to get your brain moving.
Learn Something New
Research has shown that people who continually learn new things throughout life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so kick your mental fitness a step up and go outside your comfort zone.
If you can (literally) knit with your eyes closed, try something that requires an entirely different set of skills—like glassblowing, speaking Portuguese, or salsa dancing. If glassblowing, dancing, and foreign languages are a cinch for you, try out Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
The point is, the greater the departure from your normal hobby or activity, the greater the benefit to your brain.
If you love to read or have a passion for chess, by all means keep at it. Just don’t forget to set aside some time to really push your brain to limits it hasn’t seen before.
Learning a foreign language or taking up a new musical instrument are big ways to treat your brain to terra incognito. Remember: Switching your reading habits from historical novels to essays is probably not going to move the needle much. However, speaking Mandarin instead of English—well, now you’re onto something.
Games and activities that involve multiple tasks or require interaction and organization appear to deliver the greatest protection against cognitive decline. Brain teasers and strategy games offer your brain a tough challenge and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku also fill the bill. Board games and cards add a social component so you can connect with your loved ones while strengthening your mental muscles.
Add Variety to Your Routine
Even mixing up your normal routine gets those neurons firing in entirely new ways. Take your dog to a different park, shop at a grocery store you’re not familiar with, take a different route to work or school. Changing everyday habits on a regular basis creates new brain pathways and strengthens existing connections. It also keeps life fresh, ever-interesting, and uniquely balanced.
Get Your Heart Pumping
A combination of physical and mental exercise is the best recipe for preventing cognitive decline. Research has shown that getting your heart rate up can help aging adults stay mentally sharp. Studies found improvements in the brain health of older people with just 40 minutes of brisk walking, three days a week for one year.
That means it’s time to sign up for an aerobics class, start dance lessons, or train for a 5K.
Commit to Something Every Day
This doesn’t mean you need to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle or practice a foreign language every day. This just means that you should, in some way, get your mental muscles moving every day—even just for a few minutes. There are several apps that will keep you on track, here are a few to try.
- Luminosity: This app does a great job of gamifying your brain workout. Created by scientists and game designers, Luminosity let’s you measure your baseline and track your progress. Plus, it lets you choose from more than 50 games so you can rotate your routine. Learn more about Luminosity
- Memrise: A free app that offers a variety of learning lessons, starting with just a few minutes a day. Increase your vocabulary, play trivia, learn a new language, tune up your history knowledge, or simply enroll in their “memory training” to get started. Learn more about Memrise
- CogniFit Brain Training: This app customizes a brain training regimen to suit your individual needs. CogniFit offers a selection of games designed by neuroscientists to refine your memory and concentration skills. Learn more about CogniFit Brain Training
In aging adults, the kind of boost to mental acuity that comes with just short burst of mental exercises is huge. It not only helps improve quality of life and problem-solving skills, it can significantly improve important everyday skills, like reaction times (think: driving), accuracy of reading signs and instructions (think: reading medicine bottle and recipe instructions), and memory (think: Did I already take my pills?)
The best part: Brain training is fun—so it’s not only good for the brain, but also healthy for the heart and soul.