Just like our muscles, our brains need regular exercise to remain healthy and strong. Just as you can retain your strength and muscle mass with resistance training, you can also keep your mind sharp and memory clear with a variety of activities and mental exercises. Here are nine brain-boosting techniques you can use every day.
1. Testing Your Recall
When students study for exams, they don’t just read the material and hope it sticks; they test themselves. Testing your recall verifies that you know certain facts, but it also helps you remember those facts in the future. Try making lists for groceries, to-dos and other items, and see what you can recall an hour or two later.
2. Playing Music
Music — particularly classical and other complex genres — can be mentally stimulating. Even if you’ve never played an instrument, learning now can pay major dividends in your long-term and short-term memory recall.
3. Word Games
Research suggests a rich vocabulary can protect against cognitive impairment, and crosswords and other puzzles may improve your ability to recall words. That said, the crossword puzzle in the daily paper may not always fit the bill. You need a challenge to keep your mind sharp, so try puzzles and word games that push the limits of your knowledge and even require you to learn new words.
4. Consistent Sleep
Poor sleep is a significant risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and a few restless nights will make anyone’s mind hazy. To provide for a more consistent sleep schedule and higher quality sleep, set a bedtime, create a nightly ritual, and avoid cell phones, televisions and other screens for at least an hour before bed.
5. Good Nutrition
We often separate the body and mind, but just like your muscles and heart, your brain is affected by the foods you eat every day. Heart-healthy foods are generally good for your brain, so consume foods rich in Omega-3 fats, folate and antioxidants. The Mediterranean diet – which includes plenty of fish, olive oil and nuts – has been shown to be particularly helpful for preventing cognitive decline.
6. Learning New Skills
Learning new, complex skills is one of the best ways to maintain memory, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities. From photography to knitting to woodworking, find an immersive hobby that you enjoy, and strive to get better at it every day.
7. Daily Exercise
Physical exercise can be mentally stimulating, and it helps maintain blood flow to your brain. It has even been shown to improve dementia patients’ abilities to perform activities of daily living. To make exercise a daily habit, pick activities you can consistently enjoy for 30-45 minutes, 5-6 days per week. To make it even more effective for brain health, try sports or other activities that require you to learn a new skill.
8. An Active Social Life
We have a tendency to become isolated as we age, particularly when we live apart from children and grandchildren. However, regular social interaction with friends and loved ones is an excellent way to maintain our memories and problem-solving skills. Get involved with your community center, church or other groups that share your interests and values.
9. Stress Management
Finally, stress is a major contributor to cognitive decline, and effective stress management is essential in keeping your head clear. Exercise, good nutrition, stimulating hobbies and an active social life will all keep stress at bay. Meditation, breathing exercises and spending plenty of time outside can also help, as can the companionship of an adopted pet.
When it comes to keeping your brain healthy, regular exercise is critical. By following the nine tips above, you can stay mentally sharp long into retirement.
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