Healthy Aging > mental health
By Stacey Feintuch
You have no idea where your keys are. You find your phone … in the refrigerator. You go into the bedroom and can't remember why you're there. These actions are totally normal from time to time. We all have senior moments, regardless of our age.
Whether you're 30 or 90, it's a good time to look for ways to keep your mind active. Studies have found that you can help reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline by practicing healthy habits like getting plenty of sleep, not smoking, eating healthfully and staying physically active.
You can also try some of these fun strategies to help sharpen and protect your mind.
Play an instrument.
Research shows that music uses a different section of the brain than writing or speaking. People who've had a stroke and have trouble speaking have been known to sing a complete song. Read more about music for a healthy mind and body.
Learn a new language.
It's never too late to pick up a foreign tongue. Research has shown a significant delay in Alzheimer's symptoms in people who are bilingual. It's unsure why or how this happens. But it may be because bilingual brains can compensate for the deficits caused by Alzheimer's. So, these people's brains act like they're less damaged than they really are. You can study online, take a class at a local college or read up on a language at your local library.
Mix up your morning routine.
Do you normally get dressed before breakfast? Switch things up and get dressed after breakfast instead. Try a different news channel. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand than you normally use. Brain imaging studies have found that new activities exercise large areas of the brain's cortex and increase levels of brain activity in several areas. And this activity decreases when the task becomes automatic and routine.
Play strategy games.
Play games like bridge, chess or Scrabble with friends or play virtually online. The more strategy that games require, the more effectively they'll challenge your brain.
Solve some puzzles.
Keep your brain active with puzzle games. Try jigsaw or crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Or go for brainteasers like anagrams. And keep increasing the challenge. For example, crossword puzzles in the newspaper get tougher as the week goes on, with the most difficult and challenging one on Sunday. You can also look for free puzzles and brain teasers online. Jigsaw puzzles promote your problem-solving skills, which helps keep your mind sharp as you think about how the colors and shapes match up. Be sure to try puzzles that are new to you; challenging your brain to something unknown is more beneficial than doing the same puzzle over and over.
Eat unfamiliar foods.
Giving your brain a new experience can make it more resistant to the effects of aging. New smells can cause your brain to make unexpected feelings and associations and stimulate your sense of smell, taste and sight. Try choosing a cuisine that you've never had before. Look online or in cookbooks for recipes. Then, hit up the grocery store, browsing and inhaling the cuisine's seasonings, packaged goods, vegetables, spices and more.
Reading in a new way uses different brain circuits. Read aloud or listen to a book on tape instead of reading silently to yourself. Grab a book that's outside your comfort zone. If you normally reach for chick lit, dive into an athlete's biography. Join a book club to keep you accountable for your reading and expose you to different genres of books. Plus, you'll get the benefits of socialization.
What better way to get your brain pumping than to memorize something? Set a goal to memorize some phrases or verses from a favorite proverb, book or poem. Not only will it exercise your brain, but the words can encourage and motivate you throughout the day. Write it down or repeat it aloud to reinforce your memory and help you remember it.
Do math—the old-fashioned way.
Instead of balancing your checkbook with an online program or a calculator, do your calculations with a pen and paper. It won't take much extra time. And brushing up on your math skills can only benefit your brain. You can also help your grandchildren with their math homework to keep your brain moving. You may find that even first-grade math is challenging!
Take a class.
Never stop learning! Always wanted to delve more into cooking, art, science, math or something else? Sign up for a class at your local community college, senior center, recreation department or an online course. You may even decide to get an advanced degree. A higher level of education has been associated with better mental functioning in old age, says Harvard Health Publications. Experts believe that advanced education may help you get into the habit of being mentally active. As you challenge your brain with mental exercise, you activate the processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication between them. And learning something new helps your brain work in a way that it normally doesn't.
Donate your time.
Tutor a student at a local school. Spend time at a local food shelter. Volunteering is a great way to socialize, which keeps your brain active. And that's all happening while you do a good deed and make a difference.
Read more about ways to enhance your memory.