How do we keep your brain smart? Our brains continue to grow when we challenge them. What exactly should we be looking at in terms of strenuous brain exercise?
Just as physical exercise helps keep your body healthy, strenuous mental tasks can strengthen your mind. Learning new skills, especially dancing or a new language, are excellent choices. I’m terrible with names, so that is a memory skill on which I worked. I would look at a person and say, “that’s so & so.” Eventually, my mind remembers their name with their face, even in places that are not regular places I encounter them.
A daily metal activity is an important way of keeping a healthy brain as we age. Even 15-20 minutes of an activity can be beneficial. I give myself small memory tests like reading a recipe and getting all the ingredients out of the pantry. It’s like my game show without the humiliation of losing! Just the act of testing my memory skills helps keep me cognitively healthy.
Different Ways of Remembering
I’m an artist and a visual person (that’s why I have to look at someone & repeatedly remind myself of their name), so thinking of a list of ingredients as images help me remember. Using visualizations with many of your daily tasks is one way to exercise your brain. It’s the only way I managed to learn fractions. Slices of pie or pizza were my fraction images.
As we age, it’s vital to stay mentally active. Socialize, volunteer, teach someone something you’re good at, or learn a new skill yourself. Try something you never thought you’d be interested in doing. At the very least, you’ll have passed the time in a new and exciting way.
Isolation isn’t good for us mentally. If there’s one thing we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is how meaningful social interactions are, even if you’re an introvert. There is something about spending time listening to and focusing on another person that touches us in ways we don’t understand. Each of us needs a differing amount of this type of interaction, but we all need it. It’s also an effective way to stay mentally active.
Positive Outcomes from the Pandemic?
Another positive thing we should have learned from quarantine times is that there are many options for staying connected. Additionally, there are various ways to learn new things, visit different places, and experience new things without leaving our homes.
These are fun ways to keep your brain smart. There are more things we should be doing that keep both the mind and body healthy. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or other debilitating diseases, but lifestyle choices can make a difference over the years.
You know what’s about to follow; eat right, exercise, get good quality sleep, and manage any other health problems. These are easier said than done. However, I think it’s quite motivating to know that you can reduce the genetic risk of disease with better lifestyle choices.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression are all bad for your brain. Making smarter food choices helps with most of that. If you know you need to make better food choices, I suggest that you make them slowly over a month or two. There are lots of tasty and healthy recipes on my website.
Where There’s a Need…
Truth be told, I learned how to make healthier cookies that fool everyone, so I know you’re going to want to start there! Eating better and physical activity are two crucial for preventing disease. How about depression?
I learned a lot about managing negative feelings in 2020. My husband and I went through most of the top five life stressors before the end of the first quarter. Moving, death of a loved one, forced retirement – the list was pretty extensive. Until I learned differently, I attempted to squash negative feelings, pretend they weren’t there, or some other unhelpful coping method.
From a guest, I learned that acknowledging negative feelings, asking why I have that particular feeling go a long way in changing the situation. This mindfulness trick worked wonders when my Mom was in the hospital, and I had to make difficult decisions for her. Honestly, I needed to remember this technique recently when I was having a rough time with life in general.
Be Your Own Advocate
What I needed was more socialization. Surprisingly, I achieved that by visiting with my 102-year-old grandmother. I almost didn’t go because I was in such a foul mood. I spent 90 minutes visiting with her and left feeling much better.
The reason for this ties back into my suggestions for staying cognitively healthy. I was doing something for someone else; we were reminiscing and socializing with another person. She asks me if I can find out about something and is then pleasantly surprised when I’ve found the answer using my phone. It’s also different than the other days of my week.
If that’s not an easy solution to a negative mood, then nothing will help. There are lots of ways to improve a negative mindset. It may take several attempts some days, but understand that you’ll be helping yourself now and in the future by doing this.
The One Easy Solution (sort of)
The last tip for keeping a smart mind is simple. Many medications can have side effects that cause memory issues. Certain drugs can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and delusions. My philosophy for myself is to avoid pharmaceuticals as much as possible. Thankfully, I do not have any health issues that would require medication. If you have a relatively sudden change in your memory, the cause could be medications. It’s worth having them reviewed by a doctor or pharmacist.
To conclude, keeping a smart brain is all about living, not just existing. It’s easy to get into a rut. Working, raising a family, taking care of elders, it all becomes routine. Break out of your routine regularly; give yourself time for new hobbies, learning, and travel. Don’t over-schedule yourself either. Find ways to incorporate as many aspects of healthy living into your daily life. Add one at a time if that’s what it takes.
The bottom line is how we live now will profoundly affect how we’re living in the future. If we think of it in these terms, it’ll likely be more comfortable to start doing.