Anti-aging exercises for the brain

by John Baldwin, FLT Columnist

Medical researchers are finding that a fitness program just for your brain is loaded with healthful benefits. A regular cognitive workout can improve your concentration, comprehension and recall in everyday life from remembering people’s names to driving across town.

Memory, reasoning and speed of thought processing are known to slow with age, yet expanding cognitive neuroscience research shows great promise in stretching routine “muscle memory” with new challenges that stimulate brain chemistry and activate fresh cerebral circuits. The neurobiology field called “neurobics” specializes in boosting mental acumen through cognitive exercises like brainteasers, word puzzles, computer games and online problem solving.

The more you challenge your brain, the more cells and nerve connection pathways you form across your cerebral cortex. Cognitive stimulation builds helpful proteins, which support nerve cell growth and enhance communication between neurons. Instead of gray matter simply dying as you age, new cells can be activated to grow at any age.

Protecting brain health is essential, especially for older adults who want to remain independent at home. In providing in-home care and assistance for seniors, we often find that those who work at keeping an active mind experience fewer difficulties in negotiating daily activities.

A study from Concordia University followed 333 retirees over four years to measure cognitive condition in the golden years. Those participants who were purposeful about seeking out and enjoying mentally challenging activities experienced less cognitive decline as they aged. Adding a variety of brain-engaging pursuits helped the retirees keep their mental clarity sharp after leaving the workforce.

Being lax with mental agility can lead to foggy thinking, impaired judgment, mood swings, anxiety and depression. A number of brain workout routines are recommended to reduce mental slowing:

  • Learn a new skill. Your brain kicks into action when you take up a new hobby or activity such as learning to cook different foods, speak a foreign language or play an instrument or sport.
  • Read and explore books, newspapers, magazine articles and other forms of written communication.
  • Write as often as you can. Whether you keep a journal, write emails, jot down family history and memories, or create fictional stories – keep at it.
  • Complete crossword puzzles and Sudoku. These brain builders are especially beneficial if you set a time limit and work quickly. Merriam-Webster online is a great resource for puzzles and word games. Newspapers and specialty books also publish brainteaser games.
  • Participate in regular brain games such as color match, speed match and word-find challenges. Lumosity and Fit Brains offer personalized brain-training programs, and AARP lists a number of fun memory and problem-solving games.
  • Play bridge, chess, or board and computer games. Expose yourself to the paces of mental strategy and focus.
  • Sharpen your vocabulary through a daily words calendar or more challenging reading topics.
  • Continue to socialize and verbalize. Talk with others about world events and issues important to you and your community. You don’t have to be a know-it-all – just stay open to interesting conversations without a need to argue.

Right at Home adult home care services can provide older adults with companionship and help with activities and games that boost cognitive skills, or coordinate library trips to find brainteasers, language-learning audio sets and thought provoking books.

In addition to proactively engaging the mind, employ a holistic approach to better brain health by lowering stress, eating nutritiously, maintaining regular physical exercise, getting adequate sleep and staying socially engaged.

The Perrysburg Office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., serving the communities of Wood, Lucas and parts of Sandusky counties. For more information, contact Right at Home of Perrysburg at http://www.rahnwohio.com, 567-336-6062, or by email at jbaldwin@rahnwohio.com.