You know (if you even read one out of every 10 of our columns) that we believe daily exercise is next to tooth brushing and flossing for keeping you looking good and keeping your body fit and working right. But it is even more important for the one part of your body where size matters: your brain. Powering through a Zumba class or hiking for an afternoon does as much good for your noodle as for your muscles and blood vessels. But that’s not the only kind of workout that will beef up your brain.
A group of scientists from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago published a study in the July 2013 issue of the journal Neurology showing that greater cognitive activity in childhood, middle age and in old age makes your brain better later.
So what does that mean for you? If you want to be “all there” for your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, there’s plenty you can do right now to prepare. And just because it has to do with challenging your brain cells doesn’t mean it has to feel like homework.
Think that you’re too old to spend time playing games? Nonsense! Just think of it as doing a mental workout. Doing word puzzles, playing card games and reading your favorite trashy novels all count as ways to keep your mind active. Yoga engages your core and a riveting whodunit engages your gray matter. In fact, there are any number of fun, natural activities that might seem frivolous, but give you the lasting benefits of psychological circuit training. Write in your journal or email with an old friend. Turn off the TV for a while and have a chat with your next-door neighbor. Simple social interaction might not seem like a mental workout, but spending time with your social network is associated with better health and happiness and less dementia later in life. The same is true of taking part in your favorite hobbies. Not a bad way to work out, huh?
Just like any good exercise regimen, you have to target different areas of the body for the full effect. Physical activity is among the other good habits that support mental acuity and stave off cognitive decline as you get older. Yes, exercising your body enlarges your brain, not just your biceps. As does eating right, including getting enough omega-3s from fish. Here’s another easy one to check off the better-brain to-do list: Get plenty of sleep.
When you look back with your crystal clear memory decades from now, you’ll be glad you did.
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