Just as exercise improves your physical health, brain workouts strengthen your mind, boosting your memory and thinking skills. Even better, it’s never too late to begin exercising your most important muscle. Read on for 10 easy ways to stimulate your brain.
1. Exercise for a healthier mind
Your mind and body are interconnected so, often, what benefits the body benefits the brain. Regular exercise, even taking a simple walk, goes a long way toward improving your memory and cognitive skills, according to Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
In fact, the foot’s impact during a walk sends pressure waves through the arteries, increasing blood flow and resulting in a healthier mind, according to researchers at New Mexico Highlands University. Try adding some of these physical activities to your daily or weekly routine to boost blood flow to your brain:
- Hiking on nearby nature trails
- Tennis or pickle ball
- Walking your dog
- Yoga or tai chi
- Water aerobics
2. Read for intellectual stimulation
In a study in the journal Neurology, regular reading and writing in late life reduced the rate of memory decline by 32%.
Make reading more of a habit by:
- Joining or starting a book club through your church, temple, or local library or bookstore.
- Reading to your grandchildren in person or via FaceTime or Skype.
- Subscribing to a favorite magazine or local newspaper.
- Setting aside a time each day for reading.
- Reading only what you like — it’s OK to give up and choose something else.
3. Eat healthy to stimulate your brain
You may know that nuts, fish, and red wine have been linked to a healthy brain. For an extra brain boost, try including these foods in your diet, suggests Healthline:
- Salmon is filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, major building blocks of the brain.
- Green tea improves alertness and focus. It’s rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, and has been linked with a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
- Eggs have many nutrients tied to brain health such as B6, B12, folate, and choline. Choline helps create a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which helps regulate mood and memory.
- Blueberries have antioxidants, which have been shown to improve communication between brain cells, delay short-term memory loss, and reduce inflammation.
4. Strive for good posture
If your mother or teachers told you to sit up, they were right to — maintaining an upright posture improves circulation and blood flow to the brain. Here are three ways to improve yours:
- Sleep with your spine aligned: Sleeping on your back or side is generally less stressful on your spine, according to Cleveland Clinic. In back sleeping, gravity keeps your body centered over your spine. If you sleep on your side, keep your head in neutral posture with your chin straight ahead.
- Improve your balance: Staying balanced reduces the risk of falls and benefits the spine. Try online or in-person yoga for beginner’s classes to improve balance.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra weight adds stress to your muscles and makes it more difficult to maintain proper posture.
5. Get plenty of sleep to improve memory
Sleep problems can lead to trouble with memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions, says the National Institute on Aging. Memories and newly learned skills move to more permanent regions of the brain while you sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). This makes them easier to recall.
Adults 65 and older should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, says the NSF. If you’re between the ages of 26 and 64, seven to nine hours nightly is a good goal.
Struggling to get to, or stay, asleep? Try these tips:
- Stay consistent: Pick a bedtime and stick with it — a routine will help you sleep better overall. This also includes setting a regular time to wake up on weekends.
- Avoid heavy food: Large serving sizes can irritate your stomach, causing you to lose sleep. Instead, when you’re hungry at night, have small snacks like nuts or slices of fruit.
- Limit stimulants: Try to avoid coffee, cola, cigarettes, and chocolate for up to four to six hours before bed.
- Limit alcohol: Alcohol disrupts REM and slow-wave sleep, which are important for memory. It’s best to avoid alcohol four to six hours before bed.
6. Play games or draw
Paint, color in an adult coloring book, or grab a pen and paper and draw. Whether it’s a masterpiece, or a mere doodle, making something artistic is an intellectual workout.
Games are another simple way to sharpen and stimulate your mind. Here are a few fun games for your brain:
7. Listen to music or play an instrument
Many people find listening to or playing music enjoyable, but that’s not the only benefit — it also improves memory function in older adults, according to a 2019 study in Frontiers in Psychology. Finding your favorite tunes, or learning to read or play music is easier than ever thanks to versatile platforms and technology:
- YouTube: A classic way to search for your favorite songs, music videos, or instrument tutorials. You can listen to your favorite songs while learning to play them.
- Spotify: A popular platform that includes new and older songs from all around the world. Create playlists easily, and listen to your favorite songs anytime you want.
- Pandora: Stream music for free and check out new artist or song recommendations. You can easily discover new music based on artists you already like and build your catalog.
- Take Lessons: Schedule a lesson online or in-person with an instructor at a price that works for you. Group lessons are available too, so you can learn with loved ones.
8. Learn a foreign language to boost cognitive functioning
Even if international travel isn’t in your plans, learning a new language can be beneficial. It improves cognitive functioning in older adults, according to a review of several studies in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
9. Find a new hobby to strengthen your brain
Learning a craft or skill can stimulate your mind, relieve boredom, and liven up your daily routine. Many colleges and senior centers offer engaging, low-cost lectures and classes for older adults. Whether you’re learning a new recipe, beefing up your computer skills, ongoing education is a surefire way to stay sharp. What interests you?
10. Write frequently
Writing improves working memory and communication abilities. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you write because simply expressing yourself will boost your brain activity. These 9 easy writing exercises can jumpstart your creative energy. Have fun, and enjoy a brain workout by writing one of the following:
- Creative stories
- Song lyrics
- Handwritten letters
- Blog posts
Although there are no clinically proven ways to reverse the course of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, these tips may help combat normal, age-related mental decline. By continuing to find unique ways to stimulate your brain, you increase the odds your brain will thrive for years to come.
–Merritt Whitley | aplaceformom.com