It was originally thought that once cognitive decline started it was irreversible but recent studies have shown that brain function can be maintained and even increased. This is good news as it means you can protect yourself against susceptibility to conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s by enlarging what psychologists are calling your ‘cognitive reserve’. One of the best ways to promote this reserve is to engage in intellectually challenging activities as the brain, like muscles, needs a regular workout to stay healthy and fit.
Getting a good brain workout however can be more difficult the older you get. People tend to become set in their ways and boredom ensues but the alternative, a sedentary ‘couch potato’ lifestyle, is not only detrimental to your physical health, it can also affect your brain health. 2 Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have discovered that middle aged people who regularly undertake mentally stimulating activities lessen the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment in older age by 40 percent. Even more encouraging, 65 year olds and over can reduce their chances of mental decline by 30 to 50 percent. Offered her are a few memory improvement tips that can be worked into a daily routine.
Activities to Help Stimulate Brain Function
Therefore to ensure you enjoy an active mental life well into old age, constantly seek out new things to do and learn. Participate in ‘brain food’ activities that are varied and stimulating, such as games, travelling, learning a language, reading or spending time with friends.
Many people enjoy the challenge of the daily crossword and these have been proven to challenge the memory and language areas of the brain. Jigsaw puzzles are also good as they provide exercise for the parietal lobes. Here’s a great memory improvement tip, turn the jigsaw over and work by shape alone.
Sudoku and other logic puzzles are excellent for memory improvement as is playing chess, learning a language, reading and listening to music. Playing a musical instrument and arts and crafts are even better as they involve finger dexterity which enhances brain performance. Experts say even changing your daily routine can have benefits, and suggest introducing exercises that are fun, novel and even silly such as driving home by a different route or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand.
Whichever activity you engage in research has shown that the more personally invested you are in the activity, the more this impacts on your mental functioning. Surprisingly, engaging in hours of video game playing is not seen as being as detrimental to brain function as once thought, and this is a memory improvement tip that video game lovers are happy to hear. Video games that provide a mental challenge can actually improve cognitive abilities, hand-eye coordination and spatial visualization skills. Studies have shown more than seven hours of TV watching, on the other hand, does nothing to improve cognitive abilities.
Other interactive computer related activities such as surfing the internet and using Facebook have also been shown to be positive for brainpower as they require you to make decisions and use complex reasoning. Facebook can improve memory and engage people in social interaction on some level which is seen as important for maintaining brain function.
Other Factors That Can Improve Brain Function
Even though you can’t avoid pathology, the lifestyle choices you make can go a long way into tolerating the changes that old age brings. Factors such as socializing, a healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol and high in antioxidants, and exercising regularly, also play key roles in mental fitness. Walking just four miles per week can cut your chances of later developing dementia by fifty percent. A good night’s sleep is also beneficial to the brain, as it helps to ‘reset’ it so you can look at problems more creatively. Sleep also assists in maintaining a positive outlook on life.
Robert S. Wilson, a professor of neurological and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who undertook a recent study on age and brain function, says the results suggest that “people who are more intellectually active, socially integrated, physically active and who are relatively free from negative emotions like depression and anxiety all seem to be associated with aging better cognitively.”
As more and more research like this emerges to provide evidence that brain health can be maintained, and even improved by all these factors, it makes sense to consider changing to a brain-healthy lifestyle sooner rather than later.