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9 ways to keep your brain in shape

You don’t have to be a senior citizen to have a “senior moment.” We’ve probably all wandered into a room and then forgotten why we went there in the first place or blanked on a name or a fact that we swear we used to know.

The good news is that an occasional mental lapse isn’t a reason to worry that you’re developing memory problems, even if you are a senior (although, if it becomes problematic, a call to your doctor won’t hurt). After all, we live in a world where we’re assaulted with information on a moment-by-moment basis. Sometimes, it’s amazing that we don’t forget more things.

Luckily, just as you can keep your body in shape, you can do the same with your brain, which continues to form new connections throughout your life. Here are nine ways to work out your brain and keep your mind sharp, whether you’re 25 or 65.

Don’t forget the basics

Numerous studies show that there are several basic habits that not only help you live a longer, healthier life but can also reduce the risk of cognitive decline:

  • Keeping physically active

  • Not (or stopping) smoking

  • Limiting alcohol consumption

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Eating a Mediterranean-style diet

They’re good health habits for everyone to practice, and the brain-boosting ability is a nice bonus.

Learn a new language

Over time, recall becomes easier as your brain lays down new pathways. The practice and memorization involved in learning another language can help your brain process information more efficiently and improve your ability to focus and avoid distraction.

Meditate

Your brain works hard every single day. Give it the quiet time it needs to restore itself with 10-15 daily minutes of meditation and mindfulness, which calms the body, slows breathing, lessens anxiety and stress, and may even improve your memory.

Learn a new skill

Think it’s too late to learn to play the guitar? Ride a horse? Fix your own car? Use Photoshop? Turns out, we’re never too old to learn a new skill—which stimulates your brain’s neurons and forms more neural pathways, protecting your brain against aging.

Assemble a jigsaw puzzle

The process of putting together a jigsaw puzzle challenges your brain and exercises multiple cognitive abilities as you look at each piece and figure out where it fits. It doesn’t matter whether your puzzle is 100 pieces or 1,000; the workout still happens.

Use all your senses

The more senses you use together, the better for your brain. Try to engage all five senses by concentrating on what you can smell, taste, touch, hear and see simultaneously. It can be a fun way to experience a farmer’s market or a new restaurant.

Use your other hand

Switch it up a bit by using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, comb your hair, write yourself a note or tackle another daily task. The concentration involved in doing this can prompt your brain cells to create molecules that stimulate growth.

Try some new activities

A variety of hobbies and interests have been found to be more helpful for your memory than one activity, done over and over. When you change up your schedule regularly, your mind learns to adapt. So go for a walk, read a book, learn to cook new cuisines, play cards with friends, try a new hobby or take an interesting class.

Get social

Research continues to show that strong social connections are vital for brain health. Get in touch with old friends you haven’t seen in a while and be open to meeting new friends. If it’s hard for you to get out, stay in touch via email, phone calls, or pandemic-tested video-chat tools like smartphones and Zoom. Many communities and local libraries offer online or in-person events that can help keep your social ties strong as well.

No matter what your age, try incorporating some of these tips into your daily life. You’ll not only sharpen your cognitive skills, but you’ll also learn new and exciting things and hopefully make some friends along the way who can enjoy them with you.