5 Ways to Exercise Your Brain to Combat Cognitive Decline

Health experts often bring out the phrase, “Use it or lose it,” when speaking about our body’s muscles. If you don’t use your muscles regularly, they will atrophy and you will lose strength, especially as you age. To combat atrophy and muscle loss, you need to engage in strength training exercises. Did you know the same is true for our brains?

As we age, our cognitive reserves start to fade and we find ourselves searching for lost words or taking longer to perform mental tasks. With the preponderance of news about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, retaining those cognitive reserves becomes even more important than in years past.

Here are some ideas for giving your brain a workout so you can remain sharp as you age:

1. Learn new things. Experts believe that when the brain is passive and unengaged, it will atrophy. The brain wants to learn new things and the best way to keep your brain healthy – just like with your other muscles – is to make it work. Choose something new to learn that is enjoyable to you and attack it with gusto. Check out your local Adult Continuing Education department to find classes for foreign languages, cooking, art, business, or fitness.

2. Solve math problems in your head. Forgo the use of pencil, paper, or calculator and use that brain to solve simple math problems. Increase the difficulty as needed or try walking while solving those math problems. Don’t fret if you make mistakes or it seems to take a while before reaching the answer. The key is to not give up.

3. Engage your senses. All five of our senses utilize different parts of the brain, so choose activities that depend upon using your senses. Cooking classes are excellent choices because they use sight, smell, and taste.


4. Practice your hand-eye coordination. Putting a puzzle together, knitting, crochet, painting, or drawing are just some examples of hobbies involving hand-eye coordination. Even the simple act of handwriting a letter can assist in strengthening your coordination and your brain function.

5. Read. It’s a simple concept we learned back in elementary school yet as life gets in the way, taking time to read a novel or a magazine goes by the wayside. Reading engages your sense of sight but it also engages your imagination as you picture what’s happening in the story. Reading also increases your focus and attention as well as your knowledge and vocabulary. Not a fan of novels? No worries…choose a favorite magazine, crossword puzzles, or logic problems. You’ll reap the same benefits no matter what the format is.

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One quick note: Memory game software is not found to have quite the same effects as these suggestions above. Real-world activities, such as finishing a Sudoku puzzle or driving home on a different route, are more effective at maintaining cognitive function and won’t cost much money to complete.

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No matter what your current age, now is the time to care for your brain and maintain your cognitive function. Not only will your brain benefit from these ideas but you’ll find some joy again by integrating fun activities into your life.

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