Cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are discussed a lot these days. As the numbers of baby boomers – now aged 59 to 76 (in 2023) – grow, those conditions are big issues. It is true that as we age, our cognitive reserves start to fade and we find ourselves searching for lost words or taking longer to perform mental tasks. If we intentionally exercise our brains, especially after the age of 50, it can make a difference.
I like to think of those occasional memory lapses as a by-product of a brain full of data and memories of years of life. Rather like a full hard drive on my computer. It makes sense to me that it’s difficult to quickly access everything stored there. Often it just takes a while for it to be found and sometimes a bit of information is simply inaccessible. It’s a normal part of life.
It is true that we use our brains less intensely as our lives slow down with empty nests and moving into some form of retirement or semi-retirement. 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? Intentionally doing things that give our brains a workout helps us remain sharp. Here are five ways to exercise our brains:
- 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. Take online workshops or classes on a regular basis.
- 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.
- 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. I also compiled a short report that focuses on using all our senses to reduce stress in our lives. “5 Practices for Taming the Stress Monster” is FREE and you can access it here with immediate download and no opt-in. Tame the Stress Monster
- 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. It’s an enjoyable way to exercise our brains. Buffalo Games has a huge variety of puzzles that appeal to adults. Some are nostalgic, others playful or scenic. Check them out here: Puzzles
- 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. Keep a Reading Journal to record what you’ve read, what you want to read, quotes you want to keep and more. Here’s one I designed: Reading Journal: For Book Lovers Who Take Their Reading Seriously. 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.
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.
No matter what your current age, now is the time to care for your brain and maintain your cognitive function. As we exercise our brains and gain these benefits, we also find some joy by integrating fun activities into life.
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be. Visit my Amazon Author Page to find my published books: https://amazon.com/author/carolbrusegar
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