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Mental Exercise: 12 Ways to Stretch Your Brain

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Updated July 15, 2013

While scientists have yet to determine how to fully prevent Alzheimer’s, they have done some research that demonstrates that keeping our brains active throughout our lives can delay symptoms. Some research has even shown a delay in symptoms of up to five years. If you could delay Alzheimer’s and have those extra years to enjoy your family and friends, wouldn’t you want that? So, get ready to stretch your mind and try the following:

  • Learn Another Language
    Recent research has demonstrated a significant delay in Alzheimer’s symptoms in individuals who are bilingual. It’s not yet understood how or why this occurs. One possible explanation is that somehow the brains of bilinguals are able to compensate for the deficits caused by Alzheimer’s, causing these individuals to function as if their brains had less damage than they actually do. Although the research tested those who spoke another language most or all of their lives, it’s never too late to learn a new language. You can take a community education class, go to your local library or find resources online for new language learners.

  • Games
    Try strategy games. You can play with others in person or online by yourself. Fun games include Scrabble, euchre, chess, bridge and more elaborate games like Agricola and Cities and Knights. Games that require more strategy, as opposed to the luck of the draw, may be more effective in challenging your brain.

  • Math Problems
    Rather than use your calculator or an online program to balance your checkbook, do it the old-fashioned way. Brushing up on your math skills can be part of your weekly routine, and it won’t take much time. Have grandchildren or know others who are learning their math facts? Spending a little time helping them learn multiplication can benefit both of you.

  • Memory Challenges
    Do you have a favorite book, poem or proverb? Set a goal to memorize a couple of verses or phrases a week. Choose something that will be helpful to have stuck in your mind. For example, someone I know chose to memorize some favorite verses. She felt that in addition to exercising their brain, those words would also encourage them throughout the day.

  • Read
    Books are everywhere. Now that there’s so much available online, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home. If you enjoy reading, try something that’s a bit different from your typical genre. For example, if you enjoy romance books, try reading a book about gardening or a how-to article on financial planning.

  • Travel
    If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing something in person could be priceless. New experiences and unfamiliar situations can be a good workout for your mind. A word of caution, however: Ensure that you’re in good physical and mental health before embarking on your adventure.

  • Play a Musical Instrument
    Do you play an instrument or have you always wanted to learn? For years, research has indicated that music uses a completely different section of the brain than speaking or writing. For example, individuals who have experienced a stroke and are unable to speak have been known to sing complete songs. Using different parts of your brain, while no guarantee against Alzheimer’s or other dementia, certainly has the potential to delay Alzheimer’s symptoms. And, at the least, it is an enjoyable way to spend time.

  • Physical Exercise
    Several studies have shown the cognitive benefits of physical exercise. Scientists have often linked a healthy body with a healthy mind. Stretch out before beginning your routine, and make sure your doctor has approved your exercise regimen, whether it consists of a walk three times a week, a pre-recorded exercise DVD, Wii Fit or a class at your local Y.

  • Take a Class
    Have you always been interested in painting? Take an art class. Is fixing things your gift? Develop a new skill through a community class. Maybe you’d like to get an advanced degree. There’s no age limit on schooling, so give it a try. You can also use these six strategies to help you remember what you're learning.

  • Socialization
    Spend time with others, talk, discuss the latest political news, sports or family happenings, and laugh together. If you think of the brain as a muscle, it needs to be used and used in many different ways. Laughter is beneficial for the mind, body and the heart.

  • Volunteer
    Volunteering can combine several of these strategies. For example, you could tutor a student at the local elementary school on a weekly basis. This could involve socialization, reading or math skills and perhaps even games or a new language.

  • Puzzles
    Crosswords, Suduko and jumble puzzles are all ways to keep your brain active. Think of it as your daily walk around the block for your brain. Try this daily crossword puzzle and enjoy the exercise!

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Stay Mentally Active. Accessed December 16, 2011. http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_mentally_active.asp

The Franklin Institute. Mental Exercise for a Better Brain. Accessed November 22, 2011. http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html#mentalexercise

National Institute of Health. Exercise and the brain: Something to chew on. Accessed December 16, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680508/

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