Brain function gradually declines during early middle age, retrieval of information slows, and you have to stop and think a bit longer to recall the name of someone you haven’t seen in a while or remember the name of the book you read a few months ago.
Keeping our brains mentally and physically stimulated may lower the risk of brain atrophy and memory loss. Keep moving your body but let’s also look at scientifically-backed ways to give your brain a workout.
Learn to Play a New Instrument
Learning to read music and play an instrument forces your brain to think in new ways. In fact, studies show that children who take piano lessons perform better in school. Any instrument that you’re unfamiliar with will challenge your brain but learning to play the piano requires a lot of brainpower and forces your brain to form new pathways.
It even helps your brain multitask better because you’re reading music, playing with two hands, and using foot pedals, at the same time. The fact that you’re moving your hands in a complementary manner when you play improves hand-eye coordination and motor function.
It’s not too late to get the benefits either! According to Jennifer Bugos, a professor of music education, seniors who took piano lessons experienced improvements in cognitive processing and memory and enjoyed greater verbal fluency. Playing the piano is also a good way to relieve stress and we know that stress is harmful to brain health too.
Tackle a New Language
Learning almost anything unfamiliar is beneficial for brain health and what could be more foreign than an unfamiliar language? Studies show that people who speak more than one language are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease relative to those who only speak their native language. These days, you have lots of resources for mastering a new language.
How to get started? Purchase an app or take an online course that introduces and helps you become fluent in a language. To practice, listen to podcasts or videos in the language you’re learning and try to understand what they’re saying. Even better, if you’re lucky enough to ever get the chance, visit a country where they speak the language and perfect your language skills.
Write with Your Opposite Hand
Are you right-handed? Switch things up a bit and tackle your daily activities using your left hand instead. A well-known neurobiologist Lawrence Katz says that switching hands forces your brain to work harder and helps build new communication between nerve cells. If you’re right-handed, it’s not easy to do it with your left but it’ll also give you a fresh perspective! How about eating your next meal with your non-dominant hand? Yes, you can even exercise your brain when you eat a meal.
Meditation is another brain exercise that sharpens cognitive skills and reduces stress. Studies show that meditation may improve working memory too. In fact, a study found that older individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who did yoga several hours per week experienced a slowing of brain atrophy and better brain connectivity.
What about prevention? One study found that people who meditated regularly had an average brain age that was seven years younger than those who didn’t. Meditation also eases stress and lowers cortisol, a stress hormone that plays a role in brain aging.
Stop Making It Too Easy for Your Brain
Our brains get lazy when we give them a crutch to lean on. Make your mind work a little harder by not writing down your grocery list every time you shop. Instead, try to remember all of the items in your head. Extend this thinking to other areas too. When calculating the tip at a restaurant or adding up numbers, don’t reach for your calculator. Do it in your head instead. Don’t let the brain pathways that perform functions like this get rusty. When traveling, cut off the Garmin and use a map instead. Give technology a break and make your brain work a little harder!
Read an Unfamiliar Magazine or Book
You may have read the same books and magazines for years, but now it’s time for a new perspective. Reading about something you’re not familiar with fires up areas of the brain that are dormant and encourages your brain to form new connections. Stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring an unfamiliar topic also helps re-spark your creativity.
Learn to Play Chess
Chess is a game of skill that requires you to think several moves ahead and that builds brainpower! In fact, a study found that older individuals, over the age of 75, who played games that require brain power, like chess, were less likely to develop dementia. Other games that require skill, like checkers and Chinese checkers, may have similar benefits too. If you’re playing with someone, you’re also socializing and that’s good for brain health too.
You lose brain size as you age and that can cause memory to not be as sharp as it once was. Physical activity helps slow brain aging but so does mental exercise.
As you can see, there are many ways to exercise your brain. Why not choose one or more and give your brain a workout?