You know it’s important to exercise your body, but when was the last time you exercised your brain? For all adults, especially middle-aged and older adults, cognitive stimulation is one of the most important things you can do to keep your brain healthy. But what does that mean?
Dr. Loren Alving, director of the UCSF Fresno Alzheimer & Memory Center, explains that “exercising your brain” can mean different things for everyone — just like physical exercise — but it comes down to healthy stimulation and stretching.
Here are three ways you can get started.
1. Make plans to socialize — online or in-person
“As you get older, don’t limit your socialization,” says Dr. Alving, a specialist in behavioral neurology who sees patients at Community Regional Medical Center. “Continue or increase your socialization with family and friends. Before the pandemic, we knew this to be mostly in-person, but it can be online as well.”
A recent study by the University of West London Gellar Institute of Ageing and Memory found that regularly communicating with friends and family — both in-person and online — helped maintain long-term memory among adults over the age of 50.
2. Learn something new
You’re never too old to learn something new.
“Not everyone is going to go out there and learn a new language, but push yourself to do something you haven’t done before,” Dr. Alving says. This could be a painting class, a photography course or even a new game that helps improve problem-solving or reaction time.
Find a new hobby or skill you enjoy, but don’t become complacent, Dr. Alving says. “For example, if you do crossword every day you should continue to do that, but it’s not going to stimulate your brain as much as if you continue to learn new things.”
3. Get up and get moving
A healthy mind is a healthy body. Regular exercise like walking, running or biking can foster new brain cell growth and preserve existing brain cells. Activities such as strength training, flexibility and balance classes can improve energy and boost brain power, in addition to their physical benefits.
Not sure where to start? The National Institute of Aging offers sample exercises for getting started.
Take control of your health today
“Diet, blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, sleep and depression… All of these things are potentially modifiable risk factors that can contribute to the development of dementia,” Dr. Alving explains.
Let today be the day you take control and form healthy habits for a healthier future — and a healthier brain.