Mental Exercise

Did you know?

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Many people who learn a second language experience less cognitive changes with age.

Use It or Lose it

You may think that using your mind less rather than more is the key to brain health. Certainly a restless mind that dwells too much on problems and worries is counterproductive and unhealthy. But some types of mental activity actually stimulate the growth of new brain neurons—a process called Neurogenesis. This improves brain performance and promotes long-term brain health.

 

Some studies have suggested that playing “brain games” like Sudoku help to sharpen your cognitive abilities. A game of logic, problem solving and pattern spotting, Sudoku has become very popular, especially among seniors, as it helps them to reconnect with different parts of the brain they might not utilize on a daily basis. And it has the added benefit of reinforcing a feeling of accomplishment—of rising to a challenge and completing something.

 

Stay Mentally Limber by Learning Something New

One of the best ways to promote neurogenesis is by trying out activities that involve acquiring and processing new information. Some suggestions:

 

  • Take a dance, Tai Chi or Qigong class where you learn new steps and movements.

 

  • Learn to play a musical instrument, such as guitar or piano.

 

  • Learn a new language.

 

  • Learn a new computer program or application. (When you set up your new digital camera or iPad, you’ll be exercising your brain in new ways.)

 

  • Try a new hobby or brain game (see below for some recommendations).

 

  • Put something together that involves different parts and directions.

 

  • Learn a poem, a speech or a part in a play.

 

  • Teach or share what you’ve just learned with others. Studies have shown that explaining what you’ve learned or read to someone else is a good way to retain the information and a powerful way to stimulate the brain.

 

  • Try your hand at some online brain exercises. See MyBrainTrainer.com, SharpBrains.com, and Lumosity.com.

 

  • Boost your power of recall by learning simple things like grocery lists, what you just read in a newspaper or book, new passwords and debit numbers, a recipe, etc.

 

  • Step outside your comfort zone. (If you’re a left brainer, take a watercolor class; if you’re a right brainer, complete a puzzle.)

 

  • Use your computer frequently, especially to surf the Internet to learn something new. New research shows that older adults who used a computer-based program quicken processing speed showed faster reaction times on the road and were able to perform other daily cognitive tasks, such as locating items, with greater facility. Learn more.

 

Brain Games

The best mental exercises are those that involve focus and concentration, deductive reasoning, and decision-making. Here are a few we recommend:

 

  • Bridge
  • Hearts
  • Chess
  • Scrabble
  • Jeopardy
  • Boggle
  • Crossword Puzzles
  • Sudoku
  • Backgammon

 

Brain Drains

Just as there are activities that stimulate the brain, there are activities designed to impede cognitive functioning:

 

  • Social isolation
  • Inactivity and excess weight
  • Too much time in front of the TV
  • Smoking and excess alcohol
  • Resistance to change or to embracing new information

 

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Many of the activities described on this page stimulate your left brain. But your right brain needs exercise, too! Discover how  curiosity and creativity support brain health.