10 Brain Exercises to Keep Your Mind Sharp at Any Age
Are you feeling scatterbrained, misplacing things, or forgetting names and maybe even words? These can be normal signs of aging, but they don’t have to be. Exercise does a body good, and brain exercises can help keep your mind sharp well into old age.
While physical exercise is certainly a contributing factor toward your overall health, including brain health, you can do more. Try combining both mental and physical exercises for a powerful boost for your brain.
What Happens to Your Brain As It Ages?
The body begins to develop and grow even before you’re born (starting in the third gestational week). As your brain grows, it creates neural structures, functions, connections, and pathways that facilitate and determine learning and behaviors—with up to one million new neural connections being created every second during your early years. And it continues development all the way into your late teens. Interestingly, the brain’s development relies on both internal and external input and factors.
When we talk about normal brain aging, though, it usually revolves around the decline as we enter our later decades. It includes things like trouble learning new things; remembering names, numbers, appointments, or lists; or not being able to multi-task. And, it turns out that even your brain size starts to diminish as you get older.
But brain aging is not all depressing: remember all those new neural connections that were formed early on? Well, there’s some good news! While it may slow down, this process of forming new connections never stops. That means you can nurture this function and keep the learning going long into old age with a few simple brain exercises.
Try These Brain Exercises to Keep Your Mind Sharp
Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel. Partake in some of these fun brain exercises to keep your mind and body strong and agile.
Reading helps keep your mind engaged, expands your world by going into different realms, and forces you to focus. Reading also helps you hone your vocabulary and learn new words and phrases. You continue to develop phonemic awareness as you sound out words in your head, visual and auditory processes as you picture the scenes described in the writing, and you keep your comprehension skills sharp.
2. Doing Activities That Use All Your Senses
Combining the sensations of tasting, touching, smelling, listening, and seeing are all important when choosing exercises to keep your brain sharp. Try something new like a cooking class to hit all your senses.
Whether it’s a 1,000-piece snowman in a snowstorm jigsaw puzzle or some brain teaser games like crosswords, Sudoku, or card games, puzzles are great for keeping you present, enhancing the development of your deductive capabilities, and keeping your mind sharp.
Learning new things will force your brain to stay present and form new connections, expanding your ability to learn, remember, and apply your knowledge. And don’t forget to “do.” You’ll want to keep practicing the new things you learn if you want to stay on the cutting-edge. “Use it or lose it” applies here.
And just like learning can help keep your brain engaged, teaching others what you’ve learned will keep your mind razor sharp. You’ll have to come up with different ways to explain the same things, and you’ll be challenged with a variety of questions and situations that will require cognitive acuity.
Physical Exercises That Keep Your Mind Sharp
While brain exercises are certainly helpful for keeping your mind sharp, your brain also craves physical exercise and needs it to stay sharp well into old age. Science shows that staying physically active plays a huge role in keeping age-related brain diseases (like dementia) at bay. In fact, in many cases, you can even turn brain decline around as you build new pathways and connections through learning and doing.
This fabulous calorie-burning activity is also high on the fun scale, and chances are good you’ll find yourself smiling and laughing. Not only will you release stress and work your body, you’ll strengthen your memory and improve your brain’s processing speed.
7. Group Fitness Classes
Trying something new is always going to expand your learning abilities, and if you’ve never tried group classes, now is a great time to do so. Not only will you be able to socialize and make new friends (important in your later years), you’ll develop new skills as you learn the routines. Exercising to music and among friends will also bring some much-needed fun to your life as well as the exercise your brain craves.
Many older adults love including Tai-Chi in their exercise programs. This gentle giant of an exercise will help you get stronger, more mobile, and improve your balance. Better yet, learning the movement sequences will keep your brain sharp as well. Interestingly, Tai Chi has been shown to improve cognitive function, including information processing, doing more than one task or movement at a time, your ability to focus, and memory for those who regularly practice.
9. Aerobic Conditioning
Aerobic exercise can help boost your brain power as well. Why? Doing cardiovascular exercise gets your circulation moving which, in turn, brings more oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Some studies even show that the parts of the brain responsible for memory and thinking (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) are larger in those folks who exercise regularly.
10. Weight Training
Studies also show that resistance training will garner big benefits when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and youthful. Training with weights has a direct positive effect on the hippocampus. Your hippocampus plays a large part in your ability to learn and remember. In fact, gains in strength even seem to correlate to gains in memory and cognitive abilities.
Studies show that those who have exercised regularly throughout their lives have been able to delay memory loss and other aging brain-related maladies. But, the good news is that it’s never too late to get started. Your brain keeps changing throughout your life and continues to have the ability to grow, learn, and form new connections. Even if you’ve been sedentary and haven’t tried to improve your mind, you can still turn things around.
Those studies also show that folks who simply got started at any age were able to make big improvements in the sharpness of their minds and were able to slow down the typical decline in mental sharpness with age, all while getting in better shape and having fun in the process. What could be better?