As we age, our brain naturally declines. We forget why we walked into a room or get distracted mid-sentence. You may find that you cannot think clearly because your brain is buzzing with fear, anxiety and a never ending to do list. If this is happening to you, there is a way to stop the cycle of forgetfulness, anxiety and stress. Your brain is not permanently damaged! You can increase memory, concentration, and calmness by exercising your brain. Your brain works just like any other body part and grows stronger when it is challenged. Here are some simple mental exercises to strengthen your brain every day.

Play Games

Sudoku, crossword puzzles and spot the difference pictures are not just for fun. These games challenge your brain, making it work more and not go on autopilot. Have you ever driven somewhere familiar and realized you do not remember getting there at all? This is because your brain learns to associate certain places, senses and emotions together so it can go through the action easily. You need to challenge your brain to think in new ways in order to stay sharp and focused. Playing mental games does not need to include pen and paper, either. You can practice spelling words backwards or picking a random word and then thinking of as many words as you can that begin with the first two letters of that word. You can also challenge your brain by brushing your teeth or writing with your non-dominant hand. Fun little activities that make your brain work harder make a big impact on your brain’s strength.

Practice Memorizing

Test your memory throughout the day to decrease forgetfulness. After you write your shopping list, try memorizing it. Test yourself an hour later to see how well you remember it. (You should still bring your list to the store! No need to forget the milk because you are hoping to become smarter.) Pick close family and friends’ phone numbers to memorize. You may remember doing this as a kid but smart phones take all the work out of dialing a number now. Go old school and actually dial the number into your phone instead of clicking on a name. If you enjoy drawing, you can create maps of familiar places you visit. Start with something easy like your neighborhood and then branch out to places you visit often, like your work complex or a frequently visited shopping center. If you really enjoy this activity, then you can push yourself and draw your city, state or country.

Solve Some Math

We all have calculators available now thanks to the prevalence of smart phones and computers. Any time you need a math equation solved, you can simply pull up an app. To keep your mind sharp, work on your math skills. This may sound terrible if math was not your strongest subject in school, but you are never too old to improve! Begin with simple addition problems and work your way to more complex problems. You can do subtraction, multiplication, and division in your head. Are you fuzzy on the multiplication tables? This is a great way to practice your memorization skills and your math smarts! Take the time to practice math even when you are not trying to calculate the price of bread at the store. Go for a walk and work on your skills or make use of your commute to brush up on your ability to calculate the square root of a number.

Learn Something New

You may have heard the saying that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but that is not true for humans. We can learn new skills throughout our lives. You are not too old to take up a new hobby. If you enjoy crafting, then take up sewing, needling or knitting. These will work your fine motor skills that are neglected when you passively watch TV or surf the web. If you are musically inclined, now is the time to join a choir, pick up a new instrument or join a community band. You can also take up a new, gentle athletic pursuit like yoga or golf. Both of these will work your mind and body. Have you always wanted to travel? Learn a new language! Stretching your brain in these new ways is an effective way to prevent the development of dementia.

Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

One of the best ways to develop mental sharpness is to practice meditation, or mindfulness. This will also help you become physically and emotionally healthier. If you are new to meditation, do not be intimidated. You can begin by just practicing deep breaths. Try taking 10 breaths in a row, focusing only on your breathing. If you find your mind wandering, simply come back to the breath. Gradually work your way up to 30 minutes or an hour. It will take a while to get used to meditating, so do not get discouraged if you constantly find your thoughts wandering. You can also practice mindfulness during your daily commute. Instead of practicing math facts, notice your surroundings. Take note of the smells, sights and sounds. Look for differences every day. You will be surprised at what you may be missing.
Just like we exercise our muscles, we must exercise our brain. Doing mental exercises has been shown to help prevent dementia as well as improve your overall wellbeing. You can also fight depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder by improving your mental strength. Increasing mental strength will also make smaller, everyday tasks seem simpler. If you begin everyday with mental exercises, then any challenge that work throws at you can be easily handled. Remember to have fun as you mentally exercise! That hobby you have always wanted to take up or mentally challenging game you enjoy is not a waste of time. It is helping you protect your brain from decline. Make your mental health a priority now so you can enjoy everything life has to offer in the future.

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