Aging is inevitable, but there are things you can do to help keep your mind sharp. Dr. Dara Schwartz, PsyD, a geropsychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, shares six tips for maintaining a healthy brain at any age.
- Train your brain. “Believe it or not, our brains can benefit from mental exercise, just like the rest of our body benefits from physical exercise,” says Dr. Schwartz. Growing research on cognitive training suggests that certain types of stimulation promote brain health. This “neuroplasticity” theory is behind specialized brain games that can be found online. These games are designed to provide practice and reinforcement of skills over time, and can target attention, verbal fluency, memory and other cognitive areas.
But Dr. Schwartz says you don’t need to purchase a subscription to one of these online services. Activities such as word searches, mazes or even learning a new skill can help exercise your brain. “Anything that requires you to think differently, learn new information or solve new problems can be helpful.” Much like with physical exercise, activities that are difficult during mental exercise suggest that your brain is working hard and is benefiting from being strengthened.
- Relax. Stress can impact memory, so reducing stress is key to boosting brain health. When practiced daily, relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing and guided imagery can help reduce stress and its memory-sapping effects.
- Do what makes you happy. Pleasure is also an important component in stress reduction and brain health, says Dr. Schwartz. “It’s important to think positively and prioritize activities that make you happy,” she advises. So set aside time each day to do something you find pleasurable, and your brain will benefit.
- Socialize. Research suggests that among the many benefits of an active social life is a reduction in cognitive decline. “There’s some evidence that socialization helps us with skills like attention and concentration,” Dr. Schwartz notes. “The more social connection we have, the better functioning our brains are.”
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude can help combat depression, which has been linked to short-term memory problems such as forgetfulness and confusion. According to Dr. Schwartz, there are many things people can do to practice gratitude and increase happiness. “I suggest writing down something good that happened, or a funny thing you saw,” she says. “Or thank someone for something they did. That’ll help you experience gratitude and socialize at the same time.”
- Feel accomplished. There is evidence to suggest that a sense of accomplishment can enhance brain health. “It could be something simple, like taking on a new hobby, or even getting involved in community activities, volunteering or taking a class on something that interests you,” suggests Dr. Schwartz.