I hope you all had a wonderful start to 2017. This month I wanted to chat about an important aspect of healthy aging-healthy cognitive aging! What does cognition involve? The list is quite long, but it includes aspects such as perception, recognition, judgment, etc. Simply put, we can refer to it as thinking!
I sat down and began reading research articles about the who’s, what’s, when’s, how’s of overall “brain fitness”. These are essentially characteristics that people have or acquire which enable them to perform cognitive activities. In most people over the age of 40, there can be some noticeable recall delays or glitches in thought processes. Age is definitely one of the risk factors when it comes to memory loss and other aspects of cognitive decline. So what can be done to keep our aging brains healthy for the long haul?
Developing healthy lifestyle habits in the areas of diet, mental and physical exercise, stress reduction, and social engagement can help keep our “brain fitness” in check.
There is a dose-response relationship with all of these habits- the more one engages in healthy lifestyle habits, the greater the benefits. Our goal should be to create a synergistic relationship between these practices and incorporate bouts of each of them into our daily routines.
Today’s focus will be on mental exercise!
The importance of mental stimulation in our daily routine is revealed in the idea of neurological plasticity, which is the ability for our brain to change. This change refers to establishing new connections between nerve cells and even creating new brain cells! Even as we age, our brains still remain malleable and responsive to training. Studies have shown that it is vital to step up to a challenge and engage in activities that may not be easy. You get a great sense of triumph when you solve a difficult problem! Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and learn! Here are some ideas:
• Strain your brain and learn some phrases in another language.
Here is some French: http://ielanguages.com/frenchphrases.html
• Try playing Bridge! This card game can help with increasing working memory and reasoning measures.
Here are the instructions: http://www.bicyclecards.com/how-to-play/bridge/
• Already on the computer? Click on the following websites to play a new game, do some trivia, or tease your brain:
• Grab a new friend and play some chess. Studies show that social connections play a hefty role in preventing cognitive decline and maintaining positive emotions.
• Take on a long term learning project. Examples of this could be learning a new instrument or how to quilt. Studies have shown that these types of activities help with enhancing memory function.
• Incorporate recall games into daily activities. Write down your grocery list, memorize it as best as you can, and then try to recite it every hour for the rest of the day and see how much you remember!
• Experiment with hand eye coordination. Take up a task like learning how to juggle or completing something like a paint by number!
• Pay attention to the smaller things and test yourself and the people are you with simple questions. Is the green light at the top or bottom of traffic lights? Name all of the provinces in Canada.
• Look up some optical illusions. Try to force your brain into looking at them from a different perspective. For example, how do you perceive this book at first glance? Is the cover pointing towards you? Or is the open book facing you?
• Set up a timer and see how many words you can come up with from a jumble of letters. This stimulates our left-brain language centers.
• Pick up a new book on a topic you may have never explored before! Here is a list of the top ten books of “all time”: http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1578073,00.html
Daily mental stimulation breaks can easily become a habit in your daily routine. Make it easy for and set yourself up for success! Keep a book or puzzle by your night table. Keep some brainteasers or illusions on your fridge. The opportunities are endless! As your first task of mental stimulation, do some research on the other topics that keep our brains healthy for life!
“You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again.” – Bonnie Prudden