Staying healthy isn’t only about exercising your body, but about exercising your brain as well. Your brain is a muscle, and it needs activity to stay healthy and to preserve cognitive function and memory.
Some decline in cognition is normal with age, but there are things you can do to help slow mental decline. Here are 10 activities you can do to help keep your brain sharp.
1. Dance. Learning new dance moves activates the brain to form new neural connections. It also calms your brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and sign up for that two-stepping class you’ve always wanted to take!
2. Exercise. Any form of exercise increases blood flow to the brain, particularly the part of the brain responsible for thinking. Exercise makes your brain more efficient and adaptive. Just 20 minutes a day is all you need to keep the blood flowing, allowing you to think clearly and stay sharp.
3. Answer questions. Put yourself in situations where you’re required to think on your feet—another activity that spurs the formation of new neural connections.
4. Try something new. If you’ve mastered a skill, your brain can perform that skill or activity out of habit and isn’t forced to form those important neural connections. So try new things that require your brain to learn and grow.
5. Notice the details. Take time to observe the sights and sounds around you, and then tell others about them. Listen carefully for details when talking to others and paint a mental image of what they’re telling you. Doing so prompts the growth of new cells in the visual, verbal and memory parts of the brain.
6. Reduce stress. Did you know stress affects your memory? Spend time each day de-stressing, whether through meditation, yoga, painting or your favorite stress-relieving activity.
7. Learn. Never stop learning. Education and learning help to hold off early onset dementia. You don’t have to take a formal class, just find ways to engage with others and educate yourself. Book readings, seminars, cooking classes—try whatever interests you.
8. Listen to music. Turn up your favorite tunes and allow the music to lower your stress level and the stress hormones that inhibit memory. Music also increases positive feelings and helps to improve focus.
9. Redecorate. Paint a wall in your home. Rearrange your furniture. Hang new pictures. Even small changes in your environment can encourage new cell growth in the brain.
10. Debate. Sports. Politics. Business. Religion. A healthy debate forces you to think on your feet and forms new neural pathways. Just be sure you can hold a debate without getting angry.
Making healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and keeping health issues (such as diabetes and cholesterol) in check are also important for keeping your mind healthy and sharp.