While this area of science is still under research, studies over time have consistently shown that keeping your mind engaged decreases the rate of mental decline as you age. One of the most famous studies on this subject, the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study (ACTIVE), took place in 2002, and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
In the study, 2,802 adults who were aged 65 or older attended up to 10 brain-training sessions over a five to six week period. The sessions were meant to train memory, reasoning, and the speed of information processing. By following up with these participants over time, researchers found those who completed the training showed improvement in those areas for a minimum of five years. This and other studies have led scientists to believe that staying mentally active can hold dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at bay, for the elderly.
The theory behind this is that by training your brain, you increase what is known as your “cognitive reserves.” The greater your cognitive reserves, the less cognitive decline you will experience as you age. While working on puzzles is one way to increase your brain activity, The International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reports that leading a lifestyle full of intellectual and social leisure activities is preferred. For example, instead of playing solitaire, gathering a group of friends to play rummy.
The following simple exercises and activities can help keep you mentally sharp.
- Work math problems in your head, rather than writing them down on paper or using a calculator.
- Whenever you return home from visiting a new place, take out a piece of a paper and draw a map of the location based on what you remember.
- Try performing routine tasks with your non-dominant hand.
- When eating out, challenge yourself to try and detect the individual ingredients in the dish, based on taste.
- When at the grocery store, see how many needed items you can recall from memory before you pull the list out of your pocket.
- Try activities that engage as many of your five senses as possible, such as taking a cooking class or trying your hand at gardening.
- Take up a new skill involving hand-eye coordination, such as knitting, painting, or playing a musical instrument.
- Learn a foreign language.
- Play word games in your head. For example, you can visualize the spelling of a word, then challenge yourself to think of other words that start with the same first two letters.
Keeping your mind sharp can not only be extremely helpful, but it can fun too. Give it a try!