Exercise Your Brain
Keeping the brain active and fit is just as important as keeping the body in good physical shape. This is why brain exercises are just as important as physical fitness. Just like other parts of the body, the brain undergoes a certain amount of deterioration over time. Cognitive decline can manifest as occasional forgetfulness, or can progress into different forms of dementia and related health issues and greatly reduce quality of life. Studies show that adults who actively focus on maintaining cognitive health are likely to live longer and healthier lives. Maintaining good cognitive health means maintaining the ability to remember, learn new things, think critically and make decisions. Here are some strategies for making brain exercise a part of your regular routine.
Embrace Lifelong Learning
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” These are wise words, as it turns out that lifelong learning is a powerful form of brain exercise. Research from the University of Michigan suggests that lifelong learning may help maintain cognitive health and mitigate cognitive decline. During the process of learning, the brain develops more synapses, or junctions, that relay information between brain cells. The theory is that an increase in synapses may boost cognitive reserve and help prevent dementia.
In addition to promoting cognitive health, continued learning offers many social and emotional benefits to seniors:
- Promotes self-esteem.
- Provides a sense of independence.
- Helps fight boredom and provides a sense of purpose.
- Boosts mood and helps fight feelings of isolation.
- Learning in groups, whether in person or virtually, provides an opportunity to meet new people and increase social bonds.
Practice Meditation or Spirituality
Regardless of one’s faith, participating in spiritual activities can reduce stress and mental fatigue, and prevent harmful stress chemicals from reaching the brain. Although spirituality means different things to different people, it often takes into account a search for greater meaning along with a belief in a higher power or something bigger than ourselves. Whether you attend a church, a synagogue or a mosque or find inspiration from the outdoors, spirituality can help build social connections and keep the brain engaged. Most places of worship offer online programs and services. Mediation is another spiritual tool that is worth exploring, and it can be practiced right from home. Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and calm the brain. Insight Timer offers free online guided meditations and courses from a variety of spiritual and faith-based sources.
Take Care of the Whole Body
Maintaining a healthy brain is just one part of taking care of the overall body. It is important to maintain or establish a daily routine for physical activity. Trying a new physical activity, such as a dance class or Tai Chi, can open up neural pathways and provide a real brain boost. It is also important to follow a nutrient-rich diet, drink plenty of water and follow guidelines for good sleep hygiene. Lack of quality sleep can lead to a variety of health issues, including memory loss and a decline in motor and cognitive functioning.
Play Puzzles and Board Games
Card games and board games like Scrabble, Sorry! and Yahtzee are fun and do a great job of keeping the brain supple. They also present an opportunity to socialize with others. Adding a new game into the mix every now and then will keep this activity exciting and provide a chance to learn something new. Many card and board games may now be enjoyed online, even with multiple players. Here is a list of free online game resources.
Explore Other Learning Resources
There are countless ways to give the brain a little boost, and they do not always have to involve getting out of the house. Any new experience – even listening to new music – can provide an opportunity to increase the brain’s neuroplasticity and build new synapses. There are dozens of online resources for seniors who are interested in learning something new, and many are available at no charge. The choices are incredibly varied, from art classes to language labs and workout sessions. Here are some online offerings to explore: