It’s back-to-school season again. And even if you’re not heading to classes this fall, there are still lots of ways you can develop healthy habits that improve your thinking skills.
By finding simple brain training exercises to keep your mind sharp over the years, you’ll not only improve overall brain health, but also prevent cognitive impairment over time. To give you some ideas, here are 10 things that have been proven to improve brain function and cognitive skills.
1. Get plenty of sleep—Perhaps not the first tip you were expecting, but getting enough rest does an awful lot to keep your mind fresh and invigorated. Plus getting seven to nine hours of sleep consistency has been linked to improved brain function and a significant increase of memory functions. On the flipside, frequent sleep deprivation is also linked to cognitive decline in old age. The relationship may not be causal, but it’s definitely something to think about.
2. Journal by hand—Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that handwriting, the kind that involves a pen and paper and no technology whatsoever, has actually been shown to sharpen your mind? Studies have also found that when you take notes by hand, you are exponentially more likely to remember them afterwards. So if you want to give your mind a workout and remember something, write it down the traditional way.
3. Drink lots of water—Yes, yes, I know how tired you are of hearing this one, but staying hydrated really does improve every aspect of your health, including your long-term mental health. Water cleanses your body and your brain tissues, and it also helps boost your energy, increase alertness, and curb hunger too. A study published in 2006 actually discovered that people who stayed well hydrated and also consumed a healthy diet of fruit and vegetable juices had a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Always continue learning—It stands to reason that the best way to keep your brain in tip top shape is to use it, especially for older adults. You don’t have to be in school to keep learning, so look around for opportunities to try new things. Attend a local seminar. Learn some new software at your local library. Take a meditation class at a community college. Reading new books and interesting articles online is my personal favorite way to keep learning, so do whatever you find most interesting.
5. Break your routine—This might be a hard one if you’re a just-so creature of habit like me. But learning a new skill or just altering your day-to-day routine is actually a great way to stimulate different parts of your brain and prevent both your life and your internal chemistry from going stagnant. I fully give you permission to break out of your shell and do something a little crazy that maybe you’ve never tried before.
6. Use all your senses—All five of your senses are linked to separate parts of your brain, so using all of them regularly is a great way to both stimulate your cognitive abilities and invigorate yourself. Looking at beautiful art, browsing a fancy candle store, trying exotic new foods, and attending a live concert are all great options. Plus unique sensory experiences also boost your memory. Did you know you’re much more likely to remember pictures and experiences when they’re paired with specific scents? Food for thought . . . or your nose I guess?
7. Get some regular exercise—Physical exercise is another great refresher for the brain and has actually been proven to reduce the risk of dementia. So get moving. Living a generally active lifestyle and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day will do wonders for both your physical health and your mental health. Aerobic exercise is also a great break from technology and a good old-fashioned way of increasing blood flow and lowering your stress levels naturally.
8. Stimulate your brain—If you’ve heard any advice about keeping your mind sharp, it’s probably this one. A brain game is a fantastic way to challenge your brain cells and reduce your risk of age-related memory loss. So give some a try. Sudoku is my personal favorite, but crossword puzzles, Mah Jongg, and brainer teasers like these are great too. Remember the key is to introduce novelty to your brain, plus the feeling of accomplishment when you defeat a particularly tricky puzzle is well worth the effort all on its own.
9. Believe in your healthy brain—There are a lot of myths about memory loss wandering around out there, and it’s actually in your best interest not to believe what you hear. Studies have actually shown that people who feel stress about losing their memory or put too much stock into mental decline stereotypes are much more likely to experience mental decline and memory-loss difficulties. So give your brain power the benefit of the doubt.
10. Don’t be too hard on yourself—Along with believing in your brain, be kind to yourself and take it easy on your memory skills. Everyone has little slip ups and moments of forgetfulness, so don’t beat yourself up for being human. Feel free to invest in a good planner to help you remember things, and keep in mind that forgetfulness is sometimes a sign that you’re packing too much into your brain. So give yourself the freedom to forget the little things that really don’t matter all that much in the long run.