As we learn more and more about brain function, we are certain staying active is a key feature of aging well. Research from the National Institute of Aging and the Nun Study (http://www.grc.nia.nih.gov/branches/blsa/blsa.htm) and the Cambridge Study (http://www.cfas.ac.uk/) all point to the same thing -- use it or lose it! Staying brain active and brain healthy keeps us aging normally. And at a time when so many questions about dementia go unanswered, we've pretty much got this part down. Brain exercise helps your brain function as you age. Exercise isn't going to stop dementia from happening, but it appears to alter the course a bit for some, just check out the attached article from the University of Syndey.
So in light of that, I've got some cognitive exercises for you. These activities are not only available to you for free, but these are considered the top brain exercises! And if you can work several into each day, you are doing great!
1. The number one exercise is dancing. Dancing requires all four lobes of your brain to focus and coordinate movement between large muscle groups, rhythms, beats, sequences of steps and music. If you are dancing with a partner, well for ladies this can be even more of a challenge. Just remember what was said about Fred Astair. "Sure he was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he was doing backwards...in high heels!" The great thing about dancing is you don't need a partner or a ballroom. Just get moving to music!
2. Playing card games, board games and dominoes are wonderfulf activities for your brain. Poker, bridge, blackjack, etc. all require your brain to pay attention to colors, suits, numbers, make judgements, draw inferences about what hands others might be holding, and to observe carefully others behaviors and draw inferences from those behaviors. All four lobes are needed for this exersise as well. Turns out that friendly Friday night game has great benefits!
3. Playing a musical instrument lights up the entire the brain. Ideally, you are reading music and playing your instrument, but even if you are just learning the harmonica or dulcimer and reading the notes through a tab system, your brain is still happy!
4. Riddle me this Batman! Puzzles, number games, word games, crosswords, or picture puzzles excite and challenge your brain. All four lobes are required to make puzzles work. To complete these tasks, the brain has to draw inferences, add, subtract, jump ahead in cognition, imagine and use higher functioning, all good things!
5. Google, Google, Google. If you on the Internet, using Google is a free game for the brain. When you look up information and then that piece leads you to look up something else, and then that leads to something else, and so on and so on, your brain is having a ball! Your four lobes are cranking on this exercise! Not only are you learning, but your memory files are growing and than means more brain tissue and thicker and richer dendritic growth in the cellular structures!
6. Take a hike! Or just a walk around the block. If you are a caregiver, even a ten minute stroll to the end of the block and back helps release anxiety and relieve tension. Being outside and moving ramps the brain up. Vision, memory, coordinarion, recall, imagination, touch, smell, picture recall, all of these and more are used during a brief stroll. The birds, the breeze, the crack in the sidewalk, the color of the leaves, a squirrel chattering, this multitude of stimulation combined with the physical movement is a great brain exercise!
7. Read a book! Remember in addition to your favorites, reading needs to stay challenging. New stories introduce us to new words, concepts, ideas, characters, and places and form new connections in the brain. The key is to keep your brain busy!