How to stay sharp?

Contents

How to Keep Your Brain Sharp and Healthy as You Age

7 Tips for Staying Mentally Sharp as a Senior

Promising research indicates that taking the following steps can help keep your mind sharp as you age:

  • Control cholesterol problems and high blood pressure. These conditions can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are thought to contribute to the development of certain types of dementia. Cardiovascular health — having healthy blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, along with being physically active, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking — was associated with better cognitive function in a study published in PLoS One.
  • Don’t smoke or drink excessively. Because these are both seen as putting you at increased risk for dementia, kick the habit if you smoke and, if you drink, do so only in moderation.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity is thought to help maintain blood flow to the brain and reduce your risk for conditions such as high blood pressure that are associated with the development of dementia. Consistent vigorous exercise helps lower the risk for dementia, according to a study published in the Annals of Medicine in 2015.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Researchers have found strong evidence that vitamin E, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids could help prevent dementia, along with avoiding saturated fat, according to an article published in 2016 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Specifically, researchers have found evidence that green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, and seafood are neuroprotective. Studies have also found the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet to have protective benefits against dementia. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and the DASH diet focuses on fruits and veggies, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats, along with cutting back on processed foods and limiting red meat. A new diet called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates many elements of the Mediterranean diet and DASH but with modifications that reflect current evidence for brain neuroprotection, according to the article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
  • Get a good education. People with more years of formal education are at lower risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias than those with fewer years of formal education, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Some researchers believe that having more years of education builds “cognitive reserve,” which is the brain’s ability to use connections between neurons (nerve cells) to enable you to continue to carry out cognitive tasks despite damaging brain changes.
  • Stimulate your brain. Having a mentally stimulating job and engaging in other mentally stimulating activities may also help build cognitive reserve, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. You can also keep your mind active by learning new skills. A 2017 study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests that acquiring skills in later life, including those related to adopting new technologies, may have the potential to reduce or delay cognitive changes associated with aging. In the study, older adults took a weekly, two-hour class in which they learned how to use a tablet computer. After the 10-week training, engagement in this new, mentally challenging activity was associated with improved processing speed.
  • Socialize more. Making new friends or spending time with the ones you have might be good for your brain. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports that looked at older adults in China found that participants with consistently high or increased social engagement had a lower risk of dementia than those with consistently low social engagement.

Marie Suszynski also contributed to this report.

6 simple steps to keep your mind sharp at any age

Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.

Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having good social connections
  • limiting alcohol to one drink a day
  • eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

Certain health conditions that can impair cognitive skills include diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, and hypothyroidism. If you have any of these health issues, you can help protect your memory by following your doctor’s advice carefully.

Memory changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to protect and improve memory. Here are several you might try.

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project at work that involves a skill you don’t usually use can function the same way and help improve memory.

2. Use all your senses

The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain that will be involved in retaining the memory. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a smell. They were not asked to remember what they saw. Later, they were shown a set of images, this time without odors, and asked to indicate which they’d seen before. They had excellent recall for all odor-paired pictures, and especially for those associated with pleasant smells. Brain imaging indicated that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, became active when people saw objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells were no longer present and the subjects hadn’t tried to remember them. So, challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar.

3. Believe in yourself

Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age. People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function — joking about “senior moments” too often, perhaps — are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline. If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.

4. Prioritize your brain use

If you don’t need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter’s birthday party, you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often.

5. Repeat what you want to know

When you want to remember something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. That way, you reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: “So, John, where did you meet Camille?”

6. Space it out

Repetition is most potent as a learning tool when it’s properly timed. It’s best not to repeat something many times in a short period, as if you were cramming for an exam. Instead, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time — once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. Spacing out periods of study helps improve memory and is particularly valuable when you are trying to master complicated information, such as the details of a new work assignment.

To learn more about staying mentally sharp and fit, read Cognitive Fitness, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Image: DigitalVision/Getty Images

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Tips to Help You Stay Mentally Sharp As You Age

One of the hardest things about getting older is the loss of your memory, from losing your keys to full-blown dementia or Alzheimer‘s. While more serious memory loss conditions require medical attention, it’s essential for you to implement practices and habits that keep your brain active. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Brain Exercises

Just as more people have hit the gym in recent decades, more people are working out their brains. Companies like BrainHQ are creating resources for people to start working out their mind. Using neuroscience, these exercises train the brain in the areas of focus and memory.

Physical Activity

While many people recognize the physical benefits of an active lifestyle, they disregard the mental benefits. The American Stroke Association reports that women with higher fitness levels also had better focus, working memory, problem-solving skills, and ability to learn.

Additionally, exercise helps reduce stress. Chronic stress can severely damage the brain over time. Stress can cause change the brains shape, size and even your DNA. Get active to reduce stress and support a healthy brain.

Meditate

Meditation has many great effects. Not only does it reduce anxiety and stress, it can improve concentration and attention. A 2015 University of California study found that meditating could have potential age-defying effects.

Change Your Diet

Omega 3 &6, which can be found in nuts, seeds and fatty fish is vital for your brain’s health. These fats are necessary to create and maintain cell membranes. The proteins and amino acids have a lot to do with how you behave and feel mentally. They contribute to feelings of alertness, calm, sleep, and attentiveness. Your diet needs to be balanced to feed these sections of your brain. Micronutrients found in foods that carry B6, B12 and folic acid can help protect you from degenerative brain diseases.

Stay Hydrated

Did you know that when your body is dehydrated, your brain can temporarily shrink? It’s true. The average adult’s brain is composed of over 75% water. Dehydration can cause loss of energy, negative mood, cognitive impairment, and more.

If you are interested in learning about the different options at Morningside request info here.

The great thing about these tips is they are all easy to implement into your life. What is something you do to keep your mind sharp?

Resources and Sources

Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy

American Stress Association

BrainHQ

Cibolo House Memory Care

10 Ways to Keep the Mind Sharp as We Age

Aging takes a toll on the brain. The brain literally shrinks as we age, losing up to 10% of its size. Research on aging shows that seniors experience declines in many key areas of cognitive function. Learn more about 10 ways to keep your mind sharp.

How to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Here are 10 activities you can incorporate into your life to help keep the mind sharp and brain nourished:

1. Exercise

It has long been understood that the mind and body are interconnected. What benefits the body will benefit the brain. Regular exercise goes a long way to keeping the brain healthy.

2. Read a Book

Reading is beneficial on many levels. When you read, not only do you absorb the information contained in the book, but the act of reading itself builds connections within the brain that make it more versatile.

3. Eat Right

Many foods, including nuts, fish and red wine, have been linked to a healthy brain. But concentrating on an all-around healthy diet may be the best nutritional strategy for keeping the brain sharp.

4. Maintain Good Posture

Maintaining an upright, un-slouched posture improves circulation and blood-flow to the brain.

5. Sleep Well

A good night’s sleep is vitally important to a healthy mind, especially memory. Get enough sleep and, if necessary, take naps.

6. Paint, Draw or Doodle

Whether it’s a masterpiece or a mere doodle, simply making a picture is an excellent workout for the brain.

7. Listen to Music

Music affects the brain profoundly, and has been linked to improved cognition and memory functioning.

8. Learn Something New

Many colleges and senior centers offer engaging, low-cost lectures and classes for older adults. Whether you’re learning a new language or beefing up your computer skills, ongoing education is a surefire way to keep sharp.

9. Do Puzzles

When you challenge and stimulate yourself intellectually, you exercise your brain and increase your mental capacity. Crosswords are a popular choice, but puzzles of all kinds may be similarly helpful.

10. Write

Writing improves working memory and your ability to communicate. It matters not whether it’s an email to family, a private journal or the “Great American Novel.”

It’s important to know that although there are no clinically proven ways to reverse the course of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, leading a healthy lifestyle that’s both socially and intellectually stimulating combats normal, age-related mental decline. This may decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.

Do you have advice about how to sustain an aging brain? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below.

  • 8 Ways Mindfulness Benefits Seniors
  • Tai Chi for Seniors Benefits Both Body and Mind
  • 15 Things You Can Do in 2015 for Healthy Aging

Mental prowess

(Image credit: dreamstime.)

We expect the prowess of our joints and lungs to slowly decline as we age, but the thought of our minds doing the same is intolerable. Here are some top prevention tips worth their weight in wits, plus a few to forget.

Do something!

Scientists are starting to think that regular aerobic exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for the long-term health of your brain. While the heart and lungs respond loudly to a sprint on the treadmill, the brain is quietly getting fitter with each step, too. For mental fitness, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every other day.

Eat, eat, eat

(Image credit: dreamstime)

Too much or too little energy throws a kink in the brain’s delicate machinery. A low glycemic diet — high fiber, with moderate amounts of fat and protein — is broken down more slowly in the body than high glycemic foods, such as sweets and white starches. A steady pace of digestion in the gut gives a more reliable flow of energy to the brain, likely optimizing the organ’s long-term health and performance.

Watch that diet

While overindulging can make the brain sluggish and lead to long-term detriments to your brain, too few calories can also impair brain function. Extreme dieting can cause some diehards to feel stretches of calm — a feeling that may underlie the addiction of anorexia — but many studies have also linked dieting with distraction, confusion and memory impairment.

Take care of your body

(Image credit: Dreamstime.)

Largely preventable diseases — such as Type II diabetes, obesity and hypertension — all affect your brain, too. System-wide health concerns have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and memory impairments. Keeping your circulatory system in working order, by, say, avoiding cigarettes and saturated fat, lessens the onslaught of age-related damage to the brain.

Get your beauty rest

(Image credit: stock.xchng)

When we rest and dream, memories are sifted through, some discarded, others consolidated and saved. When we don’t sleep, a recent study found, proteins build up on synapses, possibly making it hard to think and learn new things. Furthermore, chronically sleeping poorly (in contrast to not enough) is linked to cognitive decline in old age, although the relationship may not be causal.

Enjoy your coffee

(Image credit: Dreamstime.com.)

Growing evidence suggests a caffeine habit may protect the brain. According to large longitudinal studies, two to four perk-me-ups a day may stave off normal cognitive decline and decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 60 percent. It is unclear whether the benefits come from caffeine or the antioxidants found in coffee and tea, but that latte may improve cognition this afternoon and several decades from now.

Eat fish

(Image credit: NOAA Fisheries Service)

Some theories credit the introduction of fish into the human diet with the evolution of our tremendous cognitive prowess. Essential fatty acids, such as Omega 3s, are critical to brain function and are proving beneficial for treating such brain-sapping ailments as depression. Studies on the efficacy of Omega 3 supplements, however, have had mixed results, so get doses from food sources, such as flax seeds, fatty fish and grass-fed animals.

Chill out

(Image credit: Dreamstime)

Stress takes a toll on the brain by washing harmful chemicals over the hippocampus and other brain areas involved in memory. Some scientists suspect that living a balanced lifestyle and pursuing relaxing activities such as yoga, socializing and crafting may delay memory impairment by reducing stress.

Skip the supplements

(Image credit: Steve Knight (stevekrh19))

Supplements have been getting a bad rap recently, with even the familiar multivitamin now looking like a waste of money — or worse. Brain pills, such as ginkgo and melatonin, likely belong in the trash as well. Despite their “natural” origins, they are not free of potential side effects, such as high blood pressure, digestion trouble, fertility problems and depression. And among healthy individuals, ginkgo offers no brain benefits beyond that of a placebo. (In some cases, the placebo worked better.)

Tease your brain

(Image credit: Jane M Sawyer / MorgueFile)

Whether crossword puzzles, sudokus and other brain teasers actually keep your brain in shape, has not been well-established. However, lack of education is a strong predictor of cognitive decline. The more you’ve tried to learn, the better you’ll be at mental sit-ups in old age. The key may be tackling something new; the challenge of the unknown is likely more beneficial than putting together the same jigsaw puzzle over and over again.

10 Habits to Keep Your Mind Sharp

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Do you think “forgetfulness” is just a part of aging? Many people believe that it’s normal for a person to lose some mental ability by the time they reach their golden age.

Research says that if you notice memory lapses, you should take it serious. Your brain has the capacity to regenerate and repair itself, but it doesn’t happen alone.

By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can keep your mind strong and stay sharp well into old age.

1. PRIORITIZE LIFELONG LEARNING

According to Harvard University, “A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age.” However, that doesn’t mean you need a Ph.D. to take advantage.

The ultimate goal is to challenge your brain. It doesn’t matter the challenge is a Master’s thesis, pursuance of a new hobby, or learning a new skill. If your brain is learning something, it’s staying sharp.

2. BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF YOUR MIND

Negative stereotypes about aging and memory are mostly untrue – and can actually contribute to memory problems. On the other hand, if you possess confidence in your ability to maintain and improve the sharpness of your mind, you’re much more likely to engage it in activities that promote mental acuity.

3. CREATE A ROUTINE FOR THE SIMPLE THINGS

Lost keys, forgotten birthdays, getting lost…all of these trivial annoyances drain the mind’s capacity.

When you use tools (e.g. calendars, maps, lists, etc.) to keep these things in order, your brain is able to concentrate on learning and development. As far as misplacing things, designate a specific place in your home to keep the keys, eyeglasses, wallet…etc.

4. REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT…

When you come across some piece of info that you want or need to remember, either write it down or repeat it out loud. Repetition helps to reinforce the neural connections responsible for remembering things.

5. DON’T “CRAM”…AT ANY AGE, OR FOR ANY REASON

Related to #4, using repetition to memorize information is wonderful – if the timing is correct. Most people are not very adept at remembering unrelated information in a short period of time.

When you need to “study” or remember important details, it is extremely beneficial to designate periods of time to do so. Don’t “cram”…it doesn’t work.

6. GET YOUR BODY MOVING

Researchers believe that regular exercise “may be the single most important thing you can do” for brain health, especially over the long-term. While our heart and lungs are pumping, the brain is getting fit as well.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day.

7. UNDERSTAND AND REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION

Fitting that nutrition comes after exercise, as they are two of the most important determinants to long-term mind health.

First, it’s important to understand the intricate relationship between nutrition and brain health. Glycogen is the brain’s number one source of energy – and this source is expended quickly. The best option is a low glycemic nutrition plan – high fiber, moderate protein, and low fat.

8. GET PLENTY OF SLEEP…BUT NOT TOO MUCH

We’ll keep this simple: you should be sleeping 7 to 9 hours per night. Our brain cannot effectively consolidate and reorganize the prior day’s activities, otherwise. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hibernating for 10-plus hours a night accomplishes nil.

Poor sleep over the long-term is directly linked to cognitive decline in old age. If you’re not prioritizing sleep, you’re sacrificing your mental and physical health.

9. MITIGATE AND MANAGE STRESS

Stress causes the instantaneous release of cortisol – a harmful chemical that interferes with a number of important brain and body functions. Obviously, this is bad.

That said, we’re realists. Stress is a daily occurrence for everyone and everything alive on this planet. The solution: eliminate stressors where they can be (e.g. move away from that annoying co-worker) and find a healthy method of stress relieve (e.g. a Chinese massage, video games, a book, whatever…)

10. EMBRACE COGNITIVE CHALLENGES

We want to reemphasize the importance of exercising the mind. Just as your body can not get healthy without being pushed, neither can your brain.

And here’s the thing…a brain challenge can be fun! Use your smartphone and find a brain teaser; pick up the newspaper and look for the daily crossword; play a board or computer game. As long as your brain is “active,” it’s all good!

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Activities that are new and complex are good brain exercise. Get real improvements in memory, focus, mood & more with these evidence-based brain exercises.

What You’ll Learn Here

It’s common knowledge that to keep your body fit, you need to get regular and varied physical exercise that includes aerobic, strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. (1)

But if you want to keep mentally fit, you may be unsure how about ways to exercise your brain.

Only certain kinds of activities qualify as genuine brain exercise, and many that are commonly promoted as such don’t live up to their hype.

Whether you seek to achieve mental performance or fend off mental decline, here are the most effective ways to “work out” your brain.

What Makes an Activity a Brain Exercise?

Most of us live our lives as a series of fixed routines.

And there are many good reasons for this.

It limits brain-draining decision making.

It lets us perform complex tasks like driving a car with less mental effort.

Routines are run by our subconscious and require very little brain energy.

And consequently, routines provide the brain with very little stimulation.

Just as your body gets soft and lethargic from lack of physical activity, your brain gets sluggish and slow from too much routine.

Proactively shaking up your daily routines is key to a healthier, sharper mind.

The experts agree that for an activity to stimulate your brain enough to exercise it, it must meet two criteria.

The activity must be both novel and complex.

Benefits You Can Expect from Brain Exercise

Giving your brain the proper stimulation will help you be your mental best now and protect you against future cognitive decline. (2)

Though you can’t expect to get all of the following benefits from any one activity, brain exercise is reported to help in these ways: (3, 4, 5, 6)

  • less stress
  • better memory
  • more positive mood
  • increased focus and concentration
  • boost in motivation and productivity
  • enhanced fluid intelligence, creativity, and mental flexibility
  • faster thinking and reaction time
  • greater self-confidence
  • sharper vision and hearing

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The Benefits of Neurobic Brain Exercises

Dr. Lawrence Katz is an internationally recognized neurobiologist who has been a pioneer in neuron regeneration research.

He wrote Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness back in 1998 when few people were talking about brain fitness. (The link is an updated version of the book released in 2018.)

In his book, he coins the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that enhance brain performance by using all five senses in new and novel ways.

He explains that mental decline is not usually from loss of brain cells, but occurs from loss of communication between brain cells.

This occurs due to the decreasing number and complexity of dendrites, the branches on nerve cells. (7)

He found that by doing the right kind of mental exercise, we can grow new dendritic connections.

Katz points out that most brain exercises rely mainly on sight.

He believes that the key to fully exercising your brain is to engage all the senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — in non-routine ways.

He contends that any activity can be turned into a good brain exercise provided it is new, fun, and challenging.

He lists 83 brain exercises in his book.

Some of them are a little kooky, like choosing the clothes you’ll wear for the day with your eyes closed.

Of all his neurobic exercises, here are some of my favorites that you can do anywhere, anytime.

1. Switch Hands

If you are right-handed, try using your left hand to do things like brushing your teeth, eating, and using your computer mouse.

Using your non-dominant hand results in increased brain activity.

This can be very hard at first which is why it gives your brain a good workout.

2. Eat with Chopsticks

This will force you to eat mindfully which is good for your brain, digestion, and calorie consumption.

(If you’re already good at this, try using chopsticks with your non-dominant hand instead.)

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3. Do Chores with Your Eyes Closed

When taking a shower, washing your hair, or sorting laundry, try doing it with your eyes closed.

This will force your brain to use new neural pathways.

Obviously, don’t do anything with your eyes closed that could put you or others in danger.

4. Do Things Upside Down or Backwards

No worries, you don’t have to stand on your head for this one.

Stimulate your brain by looking at things upside down.

An easy one to start with is wearing your watch upside down.

This forces your brain to really think every time you glance at your watch.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
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You can also hang clocks or calendars upside down.

When you get used to that, you can graduate to using your phone, or whatever else you can imagine, upside down.

Or you can channel your inner Leonardo da Vinci and try mastering the art of writing backwards, known as mirror writing. (8)

5. Read Books Aloud

Take turns reading and listening to a book with your significant other, a friend, or a child.

If that’s not feasible, alternate reading with listening to audiobooks.

This engages the imagination in a different way.

One of the earliest demonstrations of brain imaging clearly showed three distinct brain regions lighting up when the same word was read, spoken, or heard.

6. Take New Routes

On a routine commute, your brain is on autopilot and gets very little stimulation.

But taking an unfamiliar route activates the cortex and hippocampus. (9)

It has been said that Bill Gates would drive a different route on the way home from work each day to stimulate his brain, and look where that got him!

You can also take new routes when walking, biking, or riding public transportation.

7. Simultaneously Use All Your Senses

Try activities that simultaneously engage all your senses.

Travel, camping, and gardening are high on Dr. Katz’s list of activities that utilize all your senses in new ways.

One of his favorite examples is shopping at a farmer’s market where you can look, touch, sniff, and taste the produce.

Being sociable and talking with the farmer who grew your food provides additional brain stimulation.

Brain Exercises That Increase Intelligence

In 2008, a groundbreaking study proved for the first time that overall intelligence could be improved.

This was huge news that changed the way science regarded intelligence. (10)

Several important findings resulted from this study:

  • Intelligence is fluid and can be increased with the right stimulus.
  • The gains are dependent on the amount of training, i.e. the more you train, the more you gain.
  • Anyone can increase their cognitive abilities, no matter their starting point.
  • Cognitive enhancement made in one area could improve totally unrelated skills.

Here are some of the most significant ways to stimulate your cognitive potential: (11)

8. Try New Things

Do things you’ve never done before.

Travel somewhere you’ve never been.

Check out an unfamiliar ethnic cuisine.

Try a hobby that is totally out of character for you.

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If you are a couch potato, sign up for a dance class.

If you are athletic, try needlepoint.

Novel experiences trigger the release of dopamine, the “motivation” neurotransmitter, and stimulate the creation of new neurons.

9. Challenge Yourself with Mastery

Learning something new stimulates brain activity.

But as soon as you master it, the mental benefit stops because your brain becomes more efficient at the activity.

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Learn How to Concentrate: It’s A Skill You Can Master

The only way to continue to stimulate your brain is to stay out of your comfort zone.

So once you master something, challenge yourself with the next level of difficulty or learn a related skill.

For this reason, pursuits like learning a language, playing a musical instrument, or mastering chess are ideal brain exercises because there is always more to learn.

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10. Turn Off Technology

An obvious way to do things the hard way is to stop relying on technology.

Use your brain instead of your smartphone for basic mental skills like spelling and math.

Impress your friends by memorizing their phone numbers (gasp!).

Turn off the GPS and learn to read a map and use your innate sense of direction to find your way around instead. (12)

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How to Increase IQ: Proven Ways to Boost IQ in Adults

London cab drivers give their brains a tremendous workout by building a map of London in their heads.

They must memorize 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks to get their license.

Research confirms that the typical London cabbie has a significantly larger-than-average hippocampus, the part of the brain considered the memory center. (13)

11. Make Diverse Social Connections

Any time you connect with others, you expose yourself to new ideas and other ways of thinking about things.

But you can get the most brain benefits from spending time with people obviously different from yourself.

Intentionally seek out others who have different interests or careers, or are from different social or cultural environments.

This opens you up to new perspectives and ideas which will stimulate your mental growth.

The Surprising Best Brain Exercises of All

The last four ways to stimulate your mind won’t feel like a mental workout, but may be the best brain exercises of all.

These are core activities that should become a regular part of your life if you want to achieve peak mental performance.

12. Practice Meditation

It’s estimated that over 18 million Americans meditate. (14)

Mayo Clinic, Harvard, and the National Institutes of Health extol its many benefits. (15, 16, 17)

Major corporations like Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and AOL offer structured meditation programs for executives and encourage employees at all levels to participate. (18)

The US military finds meditation helps troops deal with stress, improves their cognitive resilience, and increases their ability to focus. (19)

But is meditation really exercising your mind?

Here’s why meditation makes it onto our list of top brain exercises.

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Binaural Beats: A Meditation Shortcut

Of all mental exercises, meditation may be the most challenging and therefore the best.

Our brains are non-stop thinking machines that pour out upwards of 60,000 thoughts daily. (20)

And 90% of these thoughts are the same thoughts day in, day out. (21)

Training your mind to be quiet can be hard work!

Meditation works so much like exercise, it’s been called “pushups for the brain.” (22)

Over 1,000 published studies have demonstrated the health benefits of meditation. (23)

The mental benefits of meditation include stress reduction, improved memory, learning ability and mood, increased focus and attention, and even reversal of brain atrophy.

13. Get Physical Exercise

No discussion on brain exercise would be complete without emphasizing the importance of physical exercise for the brain.

Physical exercise might just be the most important thing you can do to keep your brain in good shape.

It may be even more important than using your brain to think! (24)

Physical exercise provides brain benefits via a variety of mechanisms:

  • It improves circulation to the brain to deliver more oxygen and nutrients, and remove metabolic waste more efficiently.
  • It increases the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. (25, 26)
  • Exercise turns on the gene that sends a signal to create more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates new brain cell formation. (27)
  • Even as little as one 30-minute exercise session can improve brain plasticity, your brain’s ability to keep growing and changing throughout your lifetime. (28)
  • Exercise increases mental energy by encouraging the formation of new mitochondria, tiny powerhouses found in every cell, including brain cells. (29, 30)

12 Mental Benefits of Physical Exercise

1. Physical exercise can help you pay attention, learn and think faster, and remember more. (31, 32, 33)

2. One huge study on over 1 million young, healthy men found it actually raised IQ. (34)

3. Exercise makes you more effective and productive by improving creativity, mental flexibility, processing speed, concentration, ability to manage time, and decision making. (35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41)

4. Exercising can make you happier, both now and in the long run. (42, 43)

It can help you control your emotions, pull yourself out of bad moods, and be more emotionally resilient. (44, 45, 46)

5. Physical exercise can make you less anxious and less prone to stress-induced depression. (47, 48)

A landmark Duke University study found that exercise worked even better than the popular antidepressant Zoloft. (49, 50)

6. Exercise boosts energy, spurs enthusiasm, and encourages you to have more fun and be playful. (51, 52)

7. Self-esteem and libido improve to make you feel more attractive, regardless of your age. (53, 54, 55, 56)

8. Exercising provides an immediate boost to self-control to help you overcome bad habits. (57)

9. Exercise can even lessen withdrawal symptoms when quitting addictive substances. (58, 59)

10. Of course, exercise builds muscle and can help you maintain a healthy weight, but it particularly attacks hidden visceral fat (that unattractive belly fat).

This kind of fat is linked to a cluster of diseases and health conditions, including brain atrophy. (60)

11. It’s been repeatedly shown that exercise relieves symptoms of a wide range of mental health disorders including ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (61, 62, 63)

12. The National Sleep Foundation reports that getting 150 minutes of exercise a week improves sleep quality by 65%. (64)

People with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD are 5 times more likely than average to experience chronic insomnia.

By simply getting better sleep, many people experience substantial relief from their symptoms. (65)

Exercising for brain health doesn’t need to be strenuous.

Walking is particularly beneficial for the brain, as are exercises with a strong mind-body connection like yoga, qigong, and tai chi. (66, 67, 68)

You can get more of a mental boost from your workouts by taking them outdoors.

Compared to indoor exercise, exercising outdoors increases vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self-esteem while lowering tension, depression, and fatigue. (69)

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14. Take Up a Creative Hobby

Hobbies are finally getting the attention they deserve.

Engaging in your favorite hobby focuses your mind in a way similar to meditation.

Hobbies can act as a natural antidepressant and may protect against brain aging. (70)

Knitting, particularly, gets a big thumbs-up.

In a large study of more than 3,500 knitters, over 80% of those with depression reported feeling happy when they knitted. (71)

Another study found that “purposeful activities” such as music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, and doing home repairs specifically stimulated the neurological system and enhanced health and mental well-being. (72)

Related on Be Brain Fit —
The Power of Self-Hypnosis to Improve Your Mind

If you don’t currently have a hobby, here are some brain-boosting ideas to get you started:

  • bird watching
  • camping
  • cooking
  • creative writing
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • drawing
  • gardening
  • genealogy
  • geocaching
  • hiking
  • knitting
  • martial arts
  • painting
  • photography
  • playing a musical instrument
  • playing games like chess, bridge, mahjong
  • quilting
  • reading
  • scrapbooking
  • traveling
  • yoga
  • woodworking

If you still need some more ideas, check out this list of hobbies on Discoverahobby.com.

You’ll also find loads of activities you can do with like-minded people in your area at Meetup.com.

15. Engage in Lifelong Learning

To keep your mind eternally young, stay curious about the world and never stop learning.

As Albert Einstein observed, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

The internet makes it easier than ever to engage in lifelong learning:

  • Udemy is the world’s largest marketplace for online educational courses. They currently offer over 100,000 online video courses on a wide variety of topics. You can learn just about anything on Udemy, including how to create your own website, train your dog, play the guitar, trace your family tree, or forage for wild foods.

  • TED iPad app allows you to create your own playlists of talks from the world’s most innovative thinkers.
  • You can learn how to play piano with the online piano lessons at Flowkey.
  • If you don’t own a piano, you can turn your computer or phone into a piano keyboard with Online Pianist’s virtual piano keyboard.
  • Get a daily dose of culture with Daily Art, an app that shares the backstory of one painting masterpiece every day.
  • At Chess.com you can learn or master chess on your computer or phone.
  • Duolingo is a free app that teaches nearly two dozen foreign languages. It can also help you brush up on your English if it’s not your native language.
  • You can develop a meditation practice for free with InsightTimer, the #1 meditation app for both Android and iOS. It gives you access to thousands of free guided meditations, music tracks, talks, and courses by some of the most esteemed names in meditation including Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Is Online Brain Training a Good Mental Exercise?

You may be wondering why online brain training is not on this list.

Developers of brain training programs like Lumosity, BrainHQ, and Fit Brains promise everything from a better memory to increased IQ, but you should be skeptical of these claims.

This is a billion-dollar industry and there’s a lot of money at stake.

The experts are divided on whether brain training works in healthy adults. (73)

And even scientists that support brain training acknowledge that brain exercise companies overstate their claims and that most brain training studies have been substandard. (74, 75, 76)

Here’s a look at two of the largest brain training studies and their conclusions:

The ACTIVE Study

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study was funded by the US National Institute on Aging.

It was the first large-scale trial to show that computerized brain training can improve cognitive function in older adults.

Study participants were 74 years old on average and in good health.

ACTIVE Study Conclusion: Computerized brain training can provide long-lasting cognitive benefits in healthy seniors in the three cognitive areas tested — memory, reasoning, and processing speed.

Brain Test Britain

The Brain Test Britain study is by far the largest computer-based brain training study so far with over 60,000 participants.

Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 80, with an average age of 43.

One of the study designers, Dr. Adrian Owen of the University of Cambridge, made this indictment:

“The result is crystal clear. Brain training is only as good as spending six weeks using the internet. There is no meaningful difference.” (77)

The Brain Test Britain study results were published in the prestigious science journal Nature.

Brain Test Britain Conclusion: Computer-based brain training shows no benefits beyond improved skill at playing brain training games for people of a wide variety of ages.

Brain Training and Lost Opportunity Cost

One of my biggest qualms about brain training is the lost opportunity cost.

The average person already spends 10 hours every day staring at screens. (78)

It seems likely that brain training is not the best use of your time when you could be engaged in other activities that are more rewarding and challenging instead.

Another drawback of commercial brain training programs is that they rely almost exclusively on sight, when ideally, you should be engaging in activities that use all of your senses.

Take that 20 minutes you would have spent on brain training to exercise, meditate, visit a friend, or engage in your favorite pastime instead.

Brain Exercises: Take the Next Step

Your brain thrives on variety to keep those synapses firing.

Exercise your brain with activities that are novel, challenging, and complex.

Above all, remember that learning real life skills is the best way to enhance your brain power.

READ NEXT: How to Think Faster, More Efficiently and Accurately

How to Keep Your Mind Sharp to Help Prevent Dementia 

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The disease affects 43 percent of people ages 75 to 84. Over 800,000 Americans are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s, and women are more likely to develop the disease than men.

Dementia is a scary topic, and a growing concern for many people. The best way to avoid experiencing the effects of dementia is to take as many steps as possible to keep your brain sharp and exercise your neural connections on a daily basis. We have compiled a comprehensive list of ways to exercise your mind and keep yourself sharp below.

Physical Games

One way to actively practice sharpening your brain is to complete puzzles on a weekly, or even daily basis. Puzzles offer cognitive training that improve multiple areas of the brain such as memory, reasoning and speed processing. These brain activities produce a cognitive reserve that could potentially delay clinical onset dementia by years. Some puzzles that are great for training the brain are:

  • Crosswords
  • Word searches
  • Sudokus
  • Riddles
  • Picture comparison games (find the difference)
  • Rubix cubes
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Sliding puzzles

By participating in these sorts of games you are practicing recall abilities and working different nerves within the brain to help keep them healthy.
Apps

  • Lumosity
    • Lumosity is a brain training app with over 40 games and activities that challenge five core cognitive abilities. The app offers insights on your strengths, weaknesses and cognitive patterns.
      In addition to brain games, the app has the option to participate in mindfulness practices, an exercise that improves source memory. Lumosity has a free and premium version available.
      The premium version costs $11.99 for a month or $59.99 for a year and unlocks all games and activities in the app. There is also a desktop version of Lumosity available for those who prefer to use a desktop rather than a portable smart device.


  • Elevate
    • Elevate is an app that is “designed to improve focus, speaking abilities, processing speed, memory, math skills and more. The app has been proven to boost cognitive skills, productivity, earning power and self confidence.”
      Elevate includes a personalized training program that tailors your experience to your needs. Another feature of this app is access to performance tracking, personalized daily workouts and a workout calendar to help you stay accountable and motivated. There are over 40 games available to increase critical cognitive skills.
      The free version of this app offers limited access to features, while the Pro version of this app is $39.99 for a year subscription and unlocks unlimited access to all aspects of the app.

  • Brainwell- Brain Training
    • Brainwell is a brain training app that focuses on problem solving, memory, language and visual skills, mental math, logic and more. The app offers over 50 games to choose from.
      In the free version, you have access to three games a day, while the premium version gives you access to Brainwell’s full library of games. The premium version costs $9.99 per month or $69.99 for a full year.
      Both versions of the app offer new games daily, performance tracking and the ability to share scores and compete with friends. Brainwell also offers an online version for those who would rather play on a desktop than use a portable smart device.

Websites

  • Brain Metrix
    • Brain Metrix is an online website that has over 22 brain games. These games include memory tests, reflex tests, color training, concentration games, math problems and more, all of which help sharpen the user’s mind.
      This website is completely free to use and offers baseline testing to see how your performance has improved over time.
  • Brain HQ
    • Brain HQ is an online website that provides brain training exercises and courses to help keep the brain sharp. The system is built and tested by an international team of neuroscientists.
      The site has an option for free exercises or full access to the site with a $14 monthly, or $96 yearly subscription. The free version of the site offers four exercises and five courses.
  • CogniFit
    • CogniFit is a website dedicated to cognitive development that is “backed by an international team of scientists, neurologists and psychologists that investigate and combine the latest discoveries about the brain with advanced algorithms making simple tasks in the form of games.”
      The website offers 11 assessments from an ADHD cognitive assessment to a driving cognitive assessment, in addition to personalized brain games, cognitive exercises and patented methodology.
      CongniFit is offered for individual needs, family needs and for professional usage. The subscription rates for CogniFit range from $20 to $49.95. CogniFit also offers a portable smart device compatible app.

Learn something new

  • Second language
    • The American Academy of Neurology found that people who are able to speak two or more languages are less likely to develop memory problems than those who only speak one language. It has been proven that bilingual people developed dementia 4.5 years later than monolingual people.
      Learning languages increases both the language centers of the brain and the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is often one of the first affected by dementia. Learning languages also increases neural pathways and increases blood flow in the brain, both of which combat against dementia.
      There are many resources available to aid in learning a new language, which range from local classes to online learning programs such as Rosetta Stone.
  • Adult classes

Whether you take a cooking class, a woodworking class, or even observe a local college lecture, you are exercising important parts of your brain. Anytime you are learning, your brain is exercising and creating new neural pathways that help to keep your mind sharp.

Diet and Exercise

According the the Alzheimer’s Association, diet and exercise are an important part of improving overall health and preventing dementia. The cardiovascular benefits of exercise can significantly improve brain function by providing more blood and oxygen to brain cells.

Additionally, exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors, which help generate new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells—aiding in the learning process. For those looking for an even bigger brain boost, complicated activities like playing tennis or taking a dance class provide even more mental stimulation.

Exercise appears to protect the hippocampus, which governs memory and spatial navigation, and is one of the first brain regions to succumb to Alzheimer’s-related damage. Even mild activity like a leisurely walk can help keep your brain fit and active—fending off memory loss and keeping skills like vocabulary retrieval strong.

Another important aspect of keeping your brain sharp is to maintain a healthy diet. The Alzheimers Association recommends two types of diets: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet.

  • DASH diet
    • Vegetables and fruits
    • Fat-free dairy products
    • Whole grains
    • Fish and poultry
    • Beans
    • Seeds
    • Nuts
    • Vegetable oils
    • Limit sodium, sweets, sugary drinks and red meats
  • Mediterranean diet
    • Whole grains
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Fish and shellfish
    • Nuts
    • Olive oil and other healthy fats
    • Limited red meat

What activities have you found help keep your mind sharp? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to download our eBook for more information on staying healthy in your senior years.

Feb. 10, 2012— — intro: We all have those moments when we forget where we put our glasses, blank on a friend’s name, or discover at the supermarket that we’ve left the shopping list at home.

Such occasional lapses are common, especially once we hit our forties. And while it may be alarming to have a “senior moment” now and then, the good news is that we are not destined to increased memory gaps as we age. Research shows that by keeping your brain healthy with the right diet, and exercising it to keep cognitive function strong, you can boost memory and brainpower. Here are 10 fun, easy things you can do to stay sharp.

quicklist: 1 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Have fish for dinner once a week url: text: People who eat fish once a week have a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to research by Martha Clare Morris, ScD, an epidemiologist and associate professor of internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The reason is DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in large quantities in the brain and in cold water species of fish, such as salmon, tuna, and cod. Morris recently found that a weekly seafood-based meal may slow cognitive decline by 10 percent per year — the equivalent of turning back the clock 3 to 4 years. Try these healthy fish recipes to get your omega-3s. Not a fish fan? Take a bite of these other brain-boosting foods.

quicklist: 2 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Take a daily brain game break url: text: When it comes to the brain, the one factor we often neglect is mental stimulation. We are creatures of habit and tend to engage in the same activities and behavior patterns. In fact, the brain “prefers” novelty and unexpected events. When we mentally challenge ourselves on a regular basis, we can maintain good intellectual potential as well as reduce our risk for age-related memory loss. Challenge yourself with our brain games, scientifically developed to give your mind a workout. From Mah Jongg to Sudoku, you won’t know which gave is your favorite until you try them all.

quicklist: 3 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Don’t skip out on family gatherings url: text: If you doubt the power of staying connected, consider this: Experts now believe that socializing, like other forms of mental exercise (such as crossword puzzles), may build cognitive reserve — a reservoir of brain function you draw from if and when other areas of your brain begin to decline. “When you interact with other people, it’s likely that structures in the frontal lobe that are responsible for ‘executive functions’ — like planning, decision making, and response control — get fired up,” explains Oscar Ybarra, PhD, associate psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Regular socializing also keeps your brain sharp by reducing cortisol, the destructive stress hormone.

quicklist: 4 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Make your workouts brain-boosting url: text: Aside from eating a healthy diet, one of the most important ways to preserve your brain health is through regular exercise. “Cardiovascular activity pumps more oxygen-rich blood to the brain, which is like giving a car a shot of gasoline,” says Thomas Crook, PhD, an expert on cognitive development and memory disorders. With that blood comes nutrients such as glucose, which fuels every cell in the brain. Daily workouts also have long-term benefits. “Cardio exercise strengthens blood vessels and helps prevent illnesses that impair cognitive function, like stroke,” says Crook.

quicklist: 5 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Hold on to your happiest memories url: text: Experts know that positive emotions have a beneficial effect on your ability to process information and are linked to better brain health over the long term. In 2007, one study found that people who frequently experience positive emotions were 60 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, while another found that older adults with lower levels of chronic stress scored better on memory tests. If you’ve had a bad day, simply press “eject” on your mental DVD player and pop in a feel-good memory instead, says Crook. Think about a time in your life when you were utterly happy. Rehearse the scene as though you were reliving it, complete with the dialogue, sights, smells, and feelings. “The memory itself will spark brain changes that can help turn your mood — and your long term health — around,” Crook explains. If you’re going through a longer rough patch, take heart — new studies show that depression can actually help your mental and emotional health in the long run. Learn the surprising benefits of sadness.

quicklist: 6 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Don’t sweat what you forget url: text: Know what and when to forget. A daily overload of information often makes us think our memory is declining and we have memory loss when in fact it’s simply glutted with too much useless data. Most of the information that comes at us every day is, frankly, not worth remembering. A fit brain will efficiently screen out and discard worthless or meaningless data so it can remember what’s important. For example, the faster you forget your old PIN or access code, the quicker and more accurately you will recall your new numbers. Can’t concentrate? Try these 10 tricks to reboot your brain.

quicklist: 7 category: 7 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp title: Take a nap – even a short one url: text: Go ahead, doze off during your lunch break: Napping for as little as 6 minutes can improve your memory, report German researchers. Over the course of 60 minutes, three groups of volunteers stayed awake for the entire hour, got in just 6 minutes of sleep, or took a 30- to 45-minute nap. On a word recall test afterward, all of those who slept outperformed those who didn’t — but surprisingly, the 6-minute nappers did just as well on the memory exam as those who snoozed longer.

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