While it is very important to relax and rest your body, no one should become a couch potato. As we grow older, important parts of our brain tend to atrophy, yet brain scans of some 70-year-olds have been seen to resemble those of 30-year-olds. Why? Research points to habits that keep the mind sharp as we age.
“Despite the stereotypes, cognitive decline is not inevitable as you age, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits can significantly reduce your risks for dementia later in life,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s senior vice president and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health.
I recently had the pleasure of spending time with an aunt in her 80s who loves a tile game called Rummikub. It’s similar to gin rummy but is played with tiles and is really fun to play. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that playing board games was associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, chess and other problem-solving and memory games are not just for fun; they stimulate your brain and may produce lasting benefits. A 2014 study found that brain exercises helped older adults maintain reasoning skills and speed of cognition 10 years after the research period came to an end. New research is exploring the benefits of video gaming in moderation. No doubt games help enhance the brain’s processing speed and memory.
While I know that the heat has been brutal, why not organize a game night with family or friends? Yes, there are plenty of online games, but playing with others helps build a social network and reduce isolation. Playing board games is also one way for a family to build cohesion. Get away from the TV, tablets, and mobile phones and pull out a board game to enjoy and keep your mind active.
A good deal of research links physical exercise to brain benefits, especially affecting the regions responsible for learning and memory. I am not advocating spending 90 minutes at the gym to experience mind boosting effects; instead, try 30 minutes daily of moderate exercise such as swimming, cycling, or walking to get blood flowing to your head. For me, being in the heat makes it easy to become sluggish, so in order to get your 30 minutes a day of exercise, break it up throughout the day.
Research also suggests that combining a dance class, learning martial arts or practicing yoga can help you with a mental challenge.
Keep your memory strong by continuing to learn. There are many websites that offer free courses. EdX (edex.org), for example, has courses from leading universities such as Harvard and UC Berkley. Spend some time reading about the courses offered. EdX has some courses that offer professional certificates. Another resource worth investigating is free learning from the Open University (open.edu/open learn/). There are over 1,000 free courses, topical and interactive content, videos, and online games. Consider pursuing a new hobby, learning a foreign language, or volunteering to keep your mind sharp.
While there are numerous activities to keep your mind sharp, the first step is awareness. Spend some time contemplating what you do daily to keep your mind active. Remember the old adage “use it or lose it”? Seems there is some truth in it.
Feel free to share your thoughts with me: email@example.com.
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Ashton Graham is an educator, book publisher, photographer, cowgirl and yoga enthusiast. She is currently studying to become a certified yoga therapist and lives on a ranch in West Texas.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Maintaining Balance: If you rest, you rust