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5 fun ways to boost your brain health
As you get older, keep your brain sharper with these simple activities.
As you age, it’s natural for your body to slow down a bit — and your brain is no exception. You may not learn new skills quite as quickly as you used to, and your memory may not be quite as strong.
Guess what: It’s not just you. Nearly 40% of adults over the age of 65 say they’ve noticed some cognitive decline. But that doesn’t mean it’s all downhill. In many ways, you can maintain your brain health and function as you age — or even improve it. That’s due to something called brain plasticity, which is your brain’s ability to change.
One of the most powerful ways to keep your mind sharper, longer is to try new activities. Your brain benefits when you break out of comfortable old habits and discover new talents and activities. When you push yourself to try new experiences, the payoff can be big: You can lift your mood, build your confidence, improve your thinking, and just feel better.
“Learning new things creates activity in your brain that seems to have beneficial effects,” says Rebecca MacAulay, Ph.D., associate of psychology at the University of Maine. She works with older patients in a memory clinic at Northern Light Health in Bangor, Maine, and has seen how activities can help people stay healthy both mentally and physically.
“Many different activities can help improve attention and help you plan, pay attention, remember, and juggle many tasks,” she says. And just being with other people can make you feel better. Ready to change up your activity schedule? Here are some fun, simple ways to get started.
Did you know that access to BrainHQ may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan. Check your eligibility today.
1. Play more
Some of the game boxes collecting dust in your closet could be the key to exercising your brain. For example, chess can really boost your brain power. It can help you solve problems. It can even improve your planning skills. After all, you need to constantly see the board from your opponent’s side. You’ve got to anticipate their next move while planning your own.
“Activities like chess that engage your memory and attention offer some of the best benefit for the brain,” says MacAulay.
Not a fan of chess? Here are some other options that have brain-related rewards:
- In one study, older adults who played the classic board game Go saw big improvements in their visual working memory. (The objective of Go is to surround more territory on a board than your opponent.)
- People who regularly played games such as cards and board games stayed sharper in their 70s, according to a 2020 study
- A 2018 study showed that card games can help your brain because you play them with other people. A social life is always good for your brain.
Another option: BrainHQ’s science-backed brain exercises, which can sharpen your memory, focus, and speed. Subscribe today for unlimited access and personalized training.
2. Lace up your dancing shoes
Doing the fox trot or the waltz — or the latest TikTok craze your grandchild taught you — is a fun way to exercise. But it’s also a great way to boost your brain fitness. A 2022 study showed that ballroom dancing improved thinking abilities in older adults at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.
“When you’re dancing, you’re doing a lot of coordinated movement,” says MacAulay. The learning process helps you improve your brain function, she explains.
And it’s great for your memory. That’s because you have to remember all the steps — and be aware of where you are in relation to your partner. You don’t want to step on any toes!
3. Get crafty
The simple act of making something can be a great way to stimulate your brain. Great examples of activities like this include:
- Knitting, sewing, needlepoint
This works best if you challenge yourself to try something more difficult — for example, learning to bake bread or tackling a hard knitting project.
You’re not just mastering a skill but producing a product you can share with others. Not to mention the fact that following instructions, using your hands, and focusing on a task can energize your brain. And crafts that require lots of repetition, like knitting, can even help you feel calm.
“These activities make you feel good,” says MacAulay. “They can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.” When you feel well emotionally, that can improve your thinking long term.
4. Break your routine
When you’re in a routine, your brain is on autopilot. Even an activity that used to engage your whole brain when it was new now only occupies a tiny part of your brain. That’s efficient! But it means that routine activities don’t contribute to brain health. However, doing new things can help your brain form new pathways and improve your ability to think.
Here are some simple ways to break up your normal routine:
- Instead of reading the newspaper at breakfast, read a book or listen to a podcast.
- Instead of taking the same daily walk, try a new route.
- Instead of making a familiar recipe, try a new one.
Taking different approaches forces your brain to think in a different way. In 2021, researchers learned that walking backward could improve memory. Study participants who walked backward for a brief time were much more likely to answer questions correctly.
5. Train your brain
One of the best ways to keep your brain sharp is to try BrainHQ. A team of leading brain scientists developed this web-based brain health program, which has been proven to be effective in hundreds of studies. These exercises can:
- Improve your memory
- Sharpen your focus
- Speed up your thinking
And you don’t have to go anywhere to do them; you can access BrainHQ on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. If you’re interested and have a Medicare Advantage plan, some of them offer BrainHQ as a perk at no additional cost to you. Find out if you’re eligible today.
Once you get going, you’ll be glad to know that your brain is changing for the better. And if you stick to a regular brain-training routine, you may just start remembering those keys — and that your partner told you to take out the trash. That’s what really matters.
Stats on cognitive decline: BMJ
Chess and problem solving study: Frontiers in Psychology
Go and visual working memory study: Geriatric Psychology
Cards and social benefits study: Frontiers in Psychology
Game playing and reduced cognitive decline study: The Journals of Gerentology
Study on long-term learning’s effect on the brain: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Study on walking backward and memory: Cognition