Much has been written about aging and performing cognitive drills. You may wonder if there are benefits to working out your brain but the question often remains…
The answer depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Research hasn’t confirmed that playing brain games alone will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but some studies have found they might help delay or slow the progression.
And they might help improve specific brain skills and play a role in maintaining overall brain health, according to Harvard Medical School. They may also sharpen thinking skills, especially as you grow older, such as your ability to plan, react, make decisions and improve your short-term memory.
Brain exercises may help you build up a reserve to rely on later when you need it. But one of the best ways to create this cache is to get regular exercise and stay active, as this increases blood flow to the brain region associated with memory storage.
When you combine physical exercise with brain games or other stimulating activity, such as learning new skills, socializing or discussing complex ideas, you may reap the benefits of building this reserve better than if you had only exercised.
Brain games and activities are only part of the picture when it comes to aging well. You’ll need a combination of stimulating activities and taking care of your overall health to maximize your cognitive benefits. The following ideas and suggestions can get you started:
Get out your old Scrabble, Chess, Backgammon or other boards and round up a partner or group. Puzzles offer a great challenge and card games can boost your thinking as you track bids, trump and which cards have been played.
You can also take advantage of the brain games online, either free or with a subscription. If you’re alone, this is a great option to play with friends, internet partners or against the computer.
AARP’s Staying Sharp program includes a brain health assessment, challenges, articles, 25 games and cognitive tests. Visit the AARP website.
Try this: If you’re a word buff, sign up for online Scrabble or Words with Friends.
Are you a secret artist who put away the brushes and canvas for your career or to raise children? Or have you privately entertained a great idea for a novel? By taking action, you may not only satisfy your desires but help your cognitive conditioning as well.
People who engage in meaningful or creative activities report feeling happier and healthier. And for those who became students of music, theater, dance or creative writing, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) points to promising research of improved quality of life, including better memory, self-esteem, reduced stress and increased social interaction.
Try this: Sign up for a woodworking class or join in with others in an art studio.
Learning a new skill may improve thinking abilities, according to NIA. One study found that older adults who learned digital photography or quilting showed increased memory improvement when compared to those who did less cognitively demanding activities.
Although the NIA does caution that more research is needed, there is positive evidence. Engaging your brain in challenging activities may build up a “cognitive reserve” which could help your brain become more adaptable and compensate for age-related brain changes.
Try this: Learn a new language, musical instrument or consider starting another career, especially if you have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Although this action step is not a game, it’s crucial to master. Short-term stress is a benefit by getting us to take action. But continual stress can have a negative impact on your brain, according to NIA, including its effect on memory and posing an increased risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
You’ll never be able to completely eliminate stress but you can make it a less threatening companion. Regular exercise makes a big difference as well as practicing relaxation techniques. If you find that you need help, contact your doctor or mental health professional to discuss.
Try this: Learn tai chi, take a daily walk or practice breathing exercises
We need social interaction and if you choose activities that require partners or groups, you’ll benefit by keeping your brain active, feel less isolated and more engaged with the world, according to NIA.
Other advantages include possibly living longer and improving your mood.
There is no shortage of opportunities when it comes to working out both your physical and emotional health. Participating in group activities can also just be more fun. Start by thinking of activities you enjoy and then see if it can be made social.
Try this: Join a group exercise class or become active in a book club.
But don’t stop there. What else can you do for brain health and aging well?
One of the top recommendations is to also adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to promote and maintain your best brain health. This can include:
Eating a diet rich with fruits and vegetables
Regular cardiovascular exercises
Managing your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels
Acquiring healthy sleep habits
Good brain health combined with physical fitness can go a long way toward helping you to age well. But you may not be sure where to start.
Ingleside’s Westminster at Lake Ridge Independent Living community offers everything you need to accomplish a healthy and fulfilled life. Not only can you take advantage of keeping yourself physically in shape at our fitness center, but you can also improve your diet with our nutritious and delicious, chef-prepared meals.
You’ll find opportunities to explore your more creative side with our amenities and just having fun participating in any of our monthly activities. Making friends and keeping connected has never been easier when you attend our planned social events.
With your choice to make an apartment or cottage your home, beautiful outdoor spaces and scheduled transportation, we believe you’ll find everything you need to keep your physical self and cognitive health at its optimum.