Healthy Brain Exercises You Can Do at Home to Stay Sharp
If you’re feeling young and fit and mentally strong, you might not think you need a brain boost. Think again. The human brain reaches its maximum weight by the age of 20 and then slowly starts shrinking.
Results from a University of Virginia study show that the average person’s brain peaks at age 22! While the study seems to show that memory may stay intact until around age 37, other cognitive skills like processing speed, reasoning and spatial visualization begin to decline around age 27.
By age 50 or so memory formation usually slows down, and by 70 some 12% of the population suffers from mild cognitive impairment, characterized by frequent short-term memory lapses.
This age-related cognitive decline is driving one of the fastest-growing segments of the game market: people over 40 who are worried about losing their mental edge. For the more than 76 million American Baby Boomers, “use it or lose it” is the new mantra. That’s led to a jump in sales of all types of brain games including video, computer and good-old fashioned word games, number games and even card and board games. The following list of fun, no-cost or low-cost activities provides great ways to give your brain a workout that can help you stay more alert, creative, and confident.
- Lose the list. Using mnemonics is a great way to boost your brain while developing a system to remember things. Mnemonics are triggers that aid memory using visual imagery or sounds, such as rhyming, acronyms or acrostics. This type of memory practice will help your memory grow over time.
- Go paperless when you play Tic-Tac-Toe. Take the classic game of tic-tac-toe and try playing in the air. Draw the grid in the air between you and your opponent, then take turns pointing to the box where you want to put your mark. This helps with memory, visualization, planning, focus and problem solving.
- Play Needle in a Haystack. Take a page from a newspaper and have someone time you as you circle all occurrences of a specific letter. Focus on increasing both accuracy and speed.
- Take up something new. Do something you’ve never tried before. This will exercise vital “dormant” areas of your brain.
- Learn a new language. Learning a new language requires that you analyze new sounds, which not only improves auditory processing skills, but also memory. Most local libraries have foreign language CDs or videos that you can check out, or you can sign up for a class at your local community college or online.
- Play a lot. Sudoku, crosswords, solitaire, bridge, chess, checkers, puzzles, scrabble. These can increase your logic and reasoning skills, as well as memory.
- Go surfing. Surf the Web for free brain-boosting games, like those found at eons.com. Trivia games can boost memory, jigsaw puzzles can help visual and spatial skills and Mah Jong can help executive function.
- Be the center of attention. You can work the three types of attention with a simple activity, like reading. Sustained attention can be built by staying focused and completing the task at hand without stopping. Use a stopwatch to see how long you can stay focused. If you stop, go back to the beginning of the chapter. To strengthen selective attention, have someone try to interrupt you while you continue reading. For divided attention, try to comprehend what you’re reading while watching television.
For those with noticeable cognitive decline, brain training can significantly help. Unlike the above-mentioned self-help exercises, specialized cognitive skills training first uses precise testing to measure cognitive abilities. Once the results are evaluated, one-on-one brain training works to strengthen all cognitive skills, but focuses on those that are weakest.
“Many people assume cognitive skills training is only for children and teens looking to overcome learning struggles or get an edge in school” says Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research and Development at LearningRx. “But, we actually work with a lot of adults. Some have suffered a traumatic brain injury, others are looking to improve their brain skills to compete with younger job-seekers in the workforce, and many are just looking to fight the effects of age-related cognitive decline. The results are usually very significant. If we’ve got the tools to improve our brain power, why shouldn’t we take advantage of it?”