Activities to Keep the Mind Healthy
Alzheimer’s and other diseases of dementia are, naturally, a great concern for many people as they age. The idea of living on, but being unable to mentally function, or in the most tragic cases, remember who you or your loved ones are or even be able to hold a conversation is an incredibly frightening prospect. And rightly so, for our minds are what truly make us who we are, more than any other system or organ in the body. But not all is bleak. While some amount of mental decline is to be expected as we age, some difficulty with remembering or recalling things, the truth is that Alzheimer’s or dementia is not a guarantee. Truthfully, less than fifteen percent of adults age 71 or older suffer from it. And one way to protect yourself as much as possible and work to keep your mind as sharp and nimble as it can be is to engage in activities that use it.
Our brain is much like any other part of our body. The more you use it, the better it gets. And while regular physical exercise will strengthen our hearts, lungs, muscles, and skeletal system, mental exercise is what keeps our brains healthy and strong. Research and evidence has found a number of activities that help strengthen the brain, improving and preserving our memory, concentration, and focus.
Jigsaw puzzles, whether a simple puzzle with a large, recognizable picture, or one of the thousand piece, densely printed difficult ones, all work to strengthen your mind. Jigsaw puzzles recruit multiple cognitive abilities in their construction, and the visuospatial skills necessary to look at a small piece and fit it into a larger picture, which work together to have a protective effect on the human mind.
Cards, whether a game of solitaire alone or a few hands of bridge or hearts with your friends, is an excellent way to keep your brain limber. Research has shown card games leads to greater brain volume in several areas of the brain, along with improving memory and thinking skills. Additionally, a game played with friends will also provide a social element, which has a greatly positive effect on mood and brain health.
You may think that dancing is solely a physical activity, but the fact of the matter is that the mental activity that goes into learning and applying new dance moves has just as much of a positive effect on brain health. So you can think of this one as killing two birds with one stone. By enrolling in something like ballroom dance, zumba, or even yoga or tai chi, you’ll be strengthening your body and your mind all at the same time.
Another activity that might surprise you is mindful meditation. While you may be asking yourself how sitting quietly and willfully emptying your mind of thoughts might improve your brain, research has shown that meditation calms the body, reduces stress and anxiety, and it also fine tunes memory and improves the brain’s ability to process and retain information.