Uncommon Ways To Stay Sharp Forever
It’s never too soon - or too late - to take steps to keep your brain in shape. And the benefits of doing so can be huge. By keeping your brain in shape research shows that you can reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s while improving your memory and mood. That’s no small achievement.
We all know the stereotype of the aging person who becomes forgetful, clumsy, and confused. And while we can’t control everything and guarantee that we can be safe from such things, a growing body of evidence now suggests that we can sure do a lot to improve our chances of remaining mentally sharp well into old age. No matter what your age - whether you’re still in your 30s or you’re now in your 80s or anywhere in between, you can start taking steps today that can improve your chances from here on out. In fact, research even shows that with the right types of activities it is even possible to reverse some cognitive decline.
A number of years ago researchers began to suggest that the long held belief that adult brains couldn’t rewire themselves was wrong. A few landmark books such as The Brain That Changes Itself brought the latest findings in brain science to the public. One of the keys terms that has come from recent research is neuroplasticity, meaning the ability of the brain to change itself, to rewire itself and adapt. Some of these recent findings have shown that contrary to old ideas, adult brains exhibit a high degree of neuroplasticity. In fact, even after events such as major strokes, brains can be trained and reconfigure themselves to regain lost functionality - something once thought to be impossible.
Out of all the excitement a number of companies have found ways to capitalize on the popularity of brain training by producing suites of brain training games. Companies such as Luminosity and even Rosetta Stone, the language learning company, have made these suites of brain training games available on the internet, playable from one’s computer or tablet or smartphone. And they claim that their games are “scientifically proven” to improve cognitive abilities and even creativity.
Of course, to gain the most from their games, the companies require that you pay a monthly subscription fee. And so it should come as no surprise that their claims have come under scrutiny.
Interestingly, a number of studies have validated the claims, showing that these brain training games really can improve memory, recall speed, pattern finding, and other cognitive skills. Not only that, but they have been shown to be able to produce these benefits and sustain these benefits in the elderly, which is promising.
On the other hand, a few studies have been a bit more critical, but even so, they admit there is reason to be excited about the prospective benefits.
Is There Another Way?
At present the brain training games have received a lot of publicity. In fact, even the critical reviews and newspaper articles serve to bring increasing attention to the brain training games. And in all the talk, it’s easy to forget that internet-based brain training games for a monthly fee aren’t the only way to train your brain. In fact, humans have been training their brains for thousands and thousands of years without the aid of the internet.
While the brain training game subscriptions may, in fact, have something of value to offer and may be worth checking out, there are a number of reasons why someone might want to choose other ways of training their brains. For one thing, using a computer or a smartphone simply may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. And one of the keys to successful brain training is enjoyment. If you enjoy the activity or activities, you’ll be more likely to do them.
So what are some other ways to train your brain? Well, here are a handful of suggestions.
- Play a musical instrument. Music has long been known to activate parts of the brain and create new neural connections. Whether you are playing piano, xylophone, trombone, or ukulele, you’re also developing hand-eye coordination along with brain skills to predict and produce pitch, tone, and so forth. Singing is also making use of a musical instrument - the voice - and has many overlapping benefits with those of other instruments.
- Take up a fine art such as drawing, painting, or sculpture. These skills develop hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory, and many other skills, producing new connections in the brain.
- Play traditional (or unconditional) “brain” games such as chess, bridge, dominoes, and so on. There is a reason why many elderly people have traditionally played these games. The playing of the games helps keep their brains in shape.
- Play group sports. Group sports, particularly when played in a manner that is physically safe, develop many aspects of brain health. Playing soccer or basketball, for example, develops hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, prediction skills, and so forth.
- Expose yourself to new things. If you have the money, time, and inclination, you can travel to new places, including places with different cultures and different languages. If you do, challenge yourself to learn how to order in the local language and do so. Learn the local customs, and meet local people. You don’t have to travel far to achieve the same aims, of course. No matter where you live, you can find new things you’ve never been exposed to in your own neighborhood.
- Get interested in a new hobby. Whether it’s learning electronics or automobile mechanics or how to cook new types of food or anything else, if it is new to you and requires that you stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, then it can train your brain in healthful ways.
- Read and learn. Any kind of reading can help train the brain, even if it is the latest throw-away thriller. But challenge yourself by reading new types of books. You won’t necessarily like all of them, but you may find new interests by challenging yourself to read other types of books. Pick up some classics like Dickens or even more recent classics like Hemingway. Or read a translation of a foreign book. Or read a biography of someone you know nothing about. Or read about history. There are lots of different types of books you can read and challenge yourself to learn and think differently.
Those are just a few examples of things you can do to train your brain. The more of those things you do, the better. The more you challenge yourself to do new things and learn new things and think in new ways, the more flexible and the healthier your brain will be.