Welcome to the fourth installment of our summer-long series around brain health. Our last article outlined which foods are best for your brain. Today, we discuss how to keep your brain sharp through exercise.
A healthy brain needs plentiful gray matter (brain tissue), intricate connections between brain cells (neurons), and good blood flow. Through the process of normal aging, all three of these things decline. One of the best ways to maintain brain health throughout your life is by exercising your brain—and that means both physically and mentally.
Physical exercise improves blood flow to the brain and decreases the risk of developing dementia in older age. A study of twins found that those who engaged in more physical activity had a significantly lower risk of dementia.
Even the simple act of walking on a regular basis can decrease the risk of dementia. A study of 1497 older adults in Pittsburgh found that those who walked at least 72 blocks per week (about a mile a day) had more gray matter in their brains than those who walked less.
The brain works by making connections and associations. Mental exercise helps build connections between brain cells—by a process called plasticity. These connections support good concentration and memory.
Exercising your brain should be a lifelong activity. A study of 294 older individuals found that those who did more reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, and younger adulthood had less cognitive decline as they aged.
One of the best ways to exercise your brain is to try, do, or learn something new. Any time your brain needs to do something new, it forms new neuronal connections. Consider some of the following 10 activities to exercise your brain.
10 Ways to Exercise Your Brain
#1 – Adopt a New Hobby
Hobbies get us excited about learning. Think about all of the fun activities you have yet to try in your life. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to garden, fix cars, knit, or paint murals. Whatever it is, give it a try.
#2 – Learn a New Sport
Learning a new sport gives your body both physical and mental exercise. Most recreational centers offer adult classes where you can learn sports like tennis, lacrosse, racquetball, or soccer.
#3 – Memorize Things
If you tend to make lists, try to memorize one. Write down your grocery list, remember it, and test yourself (before you check out). Try to memorize phone numbers, addresses, or people’s first and last names.
#4 – Learn a Musical Instrument
Playing an instrument uses areas of the brain that are not otherwise used every day. Pick up an instrument you once played long ago or try out a new one.
#5 – Play Mind Games
Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and Scrabble are great games to challenge your neuronal networks. Check your local bookstore or toy store for games that will boggle your mind.
Learn more by downloading the complete guide to brain health below.
#6 – Try an App
If you want on-the-go mind games, look for a mobile app. There are many available, depending on what interests you most.
#7 – Take a Cooking Class
Taking a cooking class will challenge you to learn something new and might also introduce you to new foods and flavors. All of these experiences help create new neuronal connections in your brain.
#8 – Learn a Foreign Language
Were you once fluent in a second language and feel you have lost it? Get it back. Or learn a language you have never spoken before. You may be able to find local groups at a community center or library where you can practice a second language.
#9 – Join a Choir
Joining a choir gives you the opportunity to make more social connections at the same time as making more neuronal connections in your brain.
#10 – Do Things Differently
We are creatures of habit. Many of us follow the same morning routine, drive the same route to work, and run on the same treadmill at the gym. We are on automatic pilot. When we switch things up—even by something as simple as brushing our teeth with the opposite hand—we challenge and strengthen our brain.
About the Author: Dr. Gerard Guillory, MD is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and has published two books on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In 1985, he opened The Care Group, PC. Today, his clinic is a Primary Care facility that is a hybrid of functional and traditional medicine treating patients with digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and other conditions. You can learn more about Dr. Guillory here.