In the last few years scientific studies of the brain have produced evidence that brain exercises can help to keep our brain and in particular our memory, in good shape as we age.
Not too long ago the idea of brain exercises was a bit too radical for most people to comprehend. As we’ve become aware of diseases such Alzheimer’s which destroys brain tissue, the expression, “use it or lose it”, has become more significant. It’s a fact that we are living longer and while most people can cope with an aging body, losing brain function is something we fear and dread.
What we’ve come to understand is that the brain is just like any other part of the body in as much as exercise will help to keep it in good health. Brain exercises help to expand the mind and keep it in good working order just as physical exercise keeps our body toned and flexible.
Ancients from many cultures have known about the mind-body connection, now we are able to back it up with scientific evidence. Treating the body as a whole, including the brain, allows us to take the holistic approach when it comes to our health. If we want to remain mentally alert in old age it’s important to stimulate the brain with regular brain exercises.
Age and Brain Exercises
It is true that when you are young it’s easier to learn new things but you can continue to expand your mind and build your brain at any age. Both physical exercise and mental exercise increases the secretion of nerve growth factor, which helps neurons to grow and remain healthy.
According to renowned brain researcher Dr Marian Diamond, the more we think, the better our brains function, regardless of age. Someone who has studied the relationship between physical exercise and brain health is neuroscientist Arthur Kramer. In one of his studies he and his colleagues found that people over the age of sixty, who did exercise for six months, had increased brain volumes in their frontal lobes grey matter. Without going into technical detail this also included the area which connects the right brain to the left brain which is associated with age-linked deterioration.
The exercise, which was mainly brisk walking, was used to prove that aerobic exercise helps to slow brain tissue loss. Walking is very good for the brain because it increases blood circulation, so that oxygen and glucose reach the brain.
A study done with older people who walk regularly showed improvement in memory skills compared to those with a more sedentary lifestyle. It also helped their learning ability, concentration and abstract reasoning.
If you exercise regularly, have a good diet and do brain exercises there is every chance that you can retain good brain function well into old age. Brain exercises aren’t difficult, however it’s important to understand that to stimulate the brain it’s advisable to have a range of diverse activities.
Games such as crossword puzzles or sodoku will mainly stimulate the frontal lobe, but sport and dance will stimulate the area that controls spatial skills. Learning a new language is very good because it requires the coordination of several areas of the brain.
When people think about brain exercises they usually think along the line of crossword puzzles and memory games. These are good techniques but if you do them on a regular basis try to increase the challenge by graduating to higher levels.
Memory exercises can be very enjoyable when done with a friend or partner. Pick an event that you both attended, try to remember what you wore, what you ate and who you met. This particular exercise soon takes on a life of its own and you will be amazed at the amount of detail you can recall.
Simple exercises such as combing your hair with the opposite hand or eating with opposite hands will help to give your brain a workout.
Reading is a great way to exercise your brain, make it your mission to try different topics or subjects to get the most out of it. Next time you go to a book shop or library go to a different section and pick a book off the shelf at random you will be surprised at what you find.
Thinking is one of the most important exercises for the brain, regard thinking as lifting weights for the brain. Unfortunately we have outsourced much of our thinking these days so it’s hard to get our brains into “think” mode.
Mostly when it comes to thinking, the brain controls us rather than the other way round. To rein it in isn’t easy but if you become master of your thinking process you will also have more control over your life.
For the important things in your life don’t accept information at face value. Take the time to think about it, sift it and make your own judgment. Learn to pay attention and engage the thinking practice. In my article “Information Overload” relating to stress, I talk about the junk in junk out factor when it comes to the brain.
Your brain is the most powerful tool you have, make it work for you, don’t clog it up with junk and let it atrophy through neglect. Think seriously about brain exercises the benefits will serve you well.
Aside from exercises a good diet is crucial for overall health; omega 3 is beneficial for brain health. Oily fish is a good source of omega 3 but other sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, soybeans and pumpkin seeds. Fresh fruit and vegetables especially leafy green ones, dairy foods and juices such as grape or cranberry.
Red wine is rich in resveratrol which boosts blood flow to the brain, its thought that this may help to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. However because red wine contains alcohol care should be exercised, one standard drink a day is considered to be sufficient for health benefits.
Medical science has always been aware of the need for adequate rest and sleep, our frenetic pace of life means that we don’t always get the required amount and this takes its toll on our health. The body must have chance to rest and recover; a tired brain cannot function properly, when you consider that everything we do, consciously or unconsciously, is related to the brain, it can be a pretty scary scenario.
Young people tend to think catnaps are something only older people need but anyone with a heavy workload should seriously consider short naps, if you are time poor it’s the ideal solution.
The beauty of brain exercises is that you can you can do them pretty much anywhere, most people have some sort of downtime even if its just commuting to work or waiting for appointments.
Look for activities that need mental effort, challenge the thinking process or mean learning new skills. Make it enjoyable and whenever possible engage family and friends, apart from keeping the brain active it will widen your horizons and make you more aware of thinking for yourself.