We always talk about exercising the body. But what about the brain, the most complex and important organ? It’s in charge of everything you do, say, and feel. Even when you’re sleeping, the brain is hard at work.
The brain gets stronger the more you use it. In fact, doing mental activities is one of the top ways to slow down cognitive decline, a natural part of aging. You’ll also ward off dementia, a general term for the symptoms of mental function loss. This happens when neurons, or nerve cells, die or stop working, or have a hard time communicating.1 2
Dementia affects 50% of people aged 85 and older, but it’s not normal. You can prevent loss of memory, focus, and cognition! Diet and exercise are key but so is mental activity. That’s why it is so important to exercise your brain. The options are endless, making it easy for anyone to challenge their noggin. The best part? It can be a lot of fun, no matter how old you are.3
1. Make Creative Projects
To help neurons communicate better, be creative. This can be anything from scrapbooking to knitting. By making visual art, you’ll strengthen neural activity and psychological resilience. Don’t focus on creating a masterpiece. Instead, just have fun! Challenge yourself to new techniques and experiences, even if you’re not that artistic.4
2. Do Puzzles
From crosswords to sudoku, puzzles are the ultimate brain workout. Look for them in newspapers or bookstores. On the web, you can find printable versions for free or cheap. A quick Google search for “brain games” or “brain exercises” will yield pages of online puzzles. If you are technologically savvy, then download brain game apps on your phone and enjoy.
Learn A New Language
It’s never too late to learn a new language. Sure, it will be tricky, but that’s the point. The activity will push your brain in the best way. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends taking classes at a local college or community center. This type of formal, classroom-based learning will do wonders for brain health.5
4. Learn A New Skill
Adopting a new skill will also put your brain to work. All you need is curiosity and an open mind! Fun ideas include calligraphy, pottery, and cake decorating. Libraries and community centers often host creative adult classes. To learn something new from the comfort of your own home, watch online tutorials.
5. Read Something
Yes, it’s that simple. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests picking up high-level reading material to involve your mind. Visit the library or used bookstore. Even reading educational websites like CureJoy will get those wheels turning!6
6. Write In A Journal
Writing in a journal is one of the cheapest forms of therapy. By reducing anxiety, you’ll protect the brain from the harmful effects of stress. Fire up your brain by using prompts. For example, write down what you’re grateful for each day. This habit will lower inflammation and ward off chronic disease according to a 2016 study in Psychosomatic Medicine.7 8
Cooking is more engaging than you think. Every time you connect one step to the next, the brain “works out.” You’re also forced to focus on details like slicing, caramelizing, and sauteing. For a real challenge, try a new recipe. Choose a meal with techniques or ingredients that you’ve never used. Your brain – and stomach – will be happy.
Don’t forget to maintain a social life, too. Make time for friends – no matter how busy you are. By staying socially active, you can reduce the risk of depression, disability, and dementia.9
|↑1||What Is Dementia? Alzheimer’s Association.|
|↑2||2: The brain is the most complex organ in the body. National Institute on Drug Abuse.|
|↑3||What Is Dementia?
|↑4||Bolwerk, Anne, Jessica Mack-Andrick, Frieder R. Lang, Arnd Dörfler, and Christian Maihöfner. “How art changes your brain: differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art evaluation on functional brain connectivity.” PloS one 9, no. 7 (2014): e101035.|
|↑5, ↑6, ↑9||Stay Mentally and Socially Active. Alzheimer’s Association.|
|↑7||Doherty, Jennifer H., and Mary Pat Wenderoth. “Implementing an Expressive Writing Intervention for Test Anxiety in a Large College Course.” Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 18, no. 2 (2017).|
|↑8||Redwine, Laura, Brook L. Henry, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen Wilson, Kelly Chinh, Brian Knight, Shamini Jain et al. “A pilot randomized study of a gratitude journaling intervention on HRV and inflammatory biomarkers in Stage B heart failure patients.” Psychosomatic medicine 78, no. 6 (2016): 667.|