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7 ways to keep your mind active as you age
We used to think that memory lapses and slower thinking were an inevitable part of old age. But now we know it’s possible to keep our minds sharp, by continuing to use our thinking ‘muscle’.
Here are seven ways you can help delay dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and protect your brain from decline.
Experts think that learning new things keeps us in the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.
Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active. When we retire, we need to keep that brain activity going by pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a role that involves doing something different.
If you don't need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter's birthday party, you'll have more brain space to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things.
Take advantage of calendars, lists and diaries to keep routine information accessible. And create a special place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often – so you always know where they are.
When we read, you don’t just absorb the information contained in the book, the act of reading itself builds connections within your brain, making it more versatile.
Today, there are also a number of e-readers – book alternatives – as well, like a Kindle, or even apps you can use on your tablet device). E-readers have access to libraries of hundreds of thousands of books, and you can quickly search, download and store books on one small unit. They have easily adjustable font size to make it comfortable for you to read from, and the screens often look like paper, without screen glare.
Some of the other great features of these devices are being able to bookmark pages or add notes and underline important points in the text. There’s also an ‘X-Ray’ to remind you of the plot and list of characters that you are reading about. If you’re interested, you can compare different e-readers here.
Whether it’s a masterpiece or a doodle, simply creating a picture is an excellent workout for the brain. Picasso and Matisse both famously produced artwork right up to their deaths at the ripe old ages of 91 and 84. Importantly, both of them remained extremely sharp and lucid.
You can increase your mental capacity by challenging and stimulating your mind with puzzles. You’ll find free puzzles like crosswords in newspapers, magazines and online.
Try the mental gymnastics needed to succeed at Sudoku – and don’t worry if you aren’t good at maths, sudoku is all about logic. It exercises your brain by getting you to think logically about which numbers need to go in which boxes. It may take an hour or two to correctly finish your first few puzzles. That’s OK! This is a new way for your brain to work.
Music affects the brain profoundly, and has been linked to improved cognition and memory functioning. Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it. This is why, in his book Awakenings, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about the power of music as the most “profound nonchemical medication.”
Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.
Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills. It stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
More indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety – issues that are often the cause of cognitive impairment.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start sharpening your brain. Just a few minutes a day on any of the above activities can help. Get going on a new mental workout today!
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