Treat your Mind Like a Muscle — Exercise It

We’ve all heard the saying, “Use it or lose it.” It usually refers to physical exercise because if you don’t engage those muscles, they will let you down when you need them. But we can also apply that concept to our brains.

As we grow older, training that gray matter becomes even more vital and can mean the difference between a healthy, long life or a life filled with forgetfulness and confusion.

Studies have shown people with problems accessing words or memories see improvement from a variety of brain exercises. The Harvard Special Health Report on Improving Memory recommends these simple exercises:

  • To remember names, associate a new acquaintance with an image, then use that person’s name in conversation.
  • We have all lost a go-to item like our glasses or cellphone. To find them easily, put them in the same place each time.
  • For other items, say out loud where you put them to trigger your memory.
  • If you have trouble remembering what people tell you, ask them to speak slowly and repeat what they say back to them.

Consider these other brain training activities:

Meditating — Activities like tai chi and meditation may increase your cognitive reserve and the brain’s capacity to switch between tasks and handle unexpected stressors.

Reading — Shut off the electronics and dive into a good book, forcing your brain to analyze words, sentence structure and storyline, as well as stimulating the imagination.

Playing a game — Playing board games, crossword puzzles, cards, chess and other games that require problem solving engage the brain into considering various solutions.

Continuing your education — Commit to life-long learning and take on something new to stimulate the brain, like another language, painting, a musical instrument or dance.

Challenge your brain every chance you get and don’t overlook a good night’s sleep.

Make physical exercise an important part of your life by adding weight-bearing exercise and getting your heart rate up to reap the benefits. Eating too little or too much can also have an impact on brain function, so eat enough to maintain a healthy weight to keep those synapses firing on target.