7 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain
One of the things that concerns people the most as they age is the idea of mental decline. Some believe that declining cognitive ability is inevitable for older individuals, but this isn’t true. There are things you can do to help keep your brain strong and young, even as your chronological age rises. Try incorporating some of these brain-boosting habits and hobbies into your routine.
1) Play Chess
Playing strategy games like chess helps to keep the brain fit. A 2013 French study even found a 15% lower dementia risk among people who played chess and similar board games compared to those who didn’t. The researchers explained that such games help the brain build cognitive reserve – the mind’s resistance to damage of the brain.
Reading is great for the brain – it stimulates the mind and improves the memory. It’s always helpful to read regularly, but some researchers recommend not reading so many books that your mind is overloaded with too much information. Reading fewer books and articles allows you to give them more focused attention and think about them more deeply, which may be even better for the brain.
3) Learn a Foreign Language
A number of studies have found evidence that being bilingual may help to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. A Swedish MRI study even showed that learning a foreign language has a visible effect on the brain, increasing the size of specific parts. People who can speak more than one language fluidly generally have better memories and stronger cognitive abilities, so learning a new language can help to keep your brain fit and healthy well into your later years.
4) Play an Instrument
Like learning a foreign langue, learning to play a musical instrument changes parts of the brain in a positive way, resulting in better memory and advanced cognitive skills. It doesn’t matter what instrument you choose – the learning process will still have the same brain-boosting effects.
5) Take Dance Lessons
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that seniors who danced three to four times a week – especially those who did ballroom dancing – had a 75% lower risk of dementia compared to people who did not dance at all. The lead study author, Dr Joe Verghese of New York’s Montefiore Medical Centre, explains that this is most likely because dancing is a complex activity which provides mental challenges. It’s also an aerobic activity so it improves blood flow to the brain. The study did not prove cause and effect, but the positive link between dancing and cognitive function certainly makes it worth a try.
6) Relieve Stress
Chronic stress can cause a surprising amount of damage to the brain, so make sure you find ways to keep those anxious feelings to a minimum. Exercise is a great stress-reliever and many people find activities that involve putting the hands to work soothing, like gardening or knitting. Some researchers say that writing about your stress can help you to get rid of intrusive, stressful thoughts, and say that this helps to keep the memory working at its best.
7) Be Sociable
Make sure you spend plenty of times with friends and family. Research shows that surrounding yourself with other people, especially as you get older, may be an essential buffer against mental decline. A study at the University of Wisconsin found that people who participated in social activities more often performed better in memory and mental processing tests.
If you want to try out some of these tips, remember that they work best as part of a generally healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep, as well as taking up a couple of hobbies that are good for the brain.
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