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Exercise Your Brain

by:Linda Burhans

Increasingly, scientists and researchers are confirming a link between keeping your brain active and reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.  While there is no guarantee, of course, more and more evidence shows that at the very least, actively working to improve your memory and keep your brain active also helps to improve your overall health and well being.

Exercise your brain as you would your body.

Your brain functions through millions of connections called synapses; the more you have, the better your brain performs.  Synapses can be disconnected in a number of ways, but the good news is you can also create new synapses and strengthen existing ones in a number of ways, too.  You can accomplish this by “exercising” your brain, just as you exercise the rest of your body.

But how, exactly, can you exercise your brain?  By using it, of course!  Seniors who make a conscious effort to stimulate their brains and keep them active are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, depression, or general dementia.  So it is important to continually find ways to make your brain work a little bit harder and keep those synapses strong.

Great exercises for your brain:

In general, anything you do that causes you to think or use your brain in new ways can provide the vital exercise your brain needs.  But this doesn’t have to be boring, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Here are some examples of great exercises for your brain:

1. Change your routine – The more often you repeat a routine the less your brain has to work, so consciously look for ways to do things in a different way.  If you normally brush your teeth with your right hand, for example, try using your left hand instead.  Or, when you go to the grocery store go through the aisles in the opposite way you normally would.

2. Expand your knowledge – Taking in new information is a good way to keep your brain active, so find ways to expand your knowledge.  Read more books, take a class, study an interesting subject, or anything else you can think of along these lines.

3. Use your senses – Your brain is also strengthened when you use multiple senses to take in information, perform tasks, and the like.  Find ways to use more than one sense when you’re doing normal activities.  For instance, you could read a magazine aloud or take notes as you carry on a conversation or watch a movie.  By using more than one sense to process information your brain is better able to stay healthy.

4. Seek new mental challenges – This is a particularly fun way to strengthen your brain because it is all about playing games and challenging yourself.  Do word searches, try your hand at Sudoku, do mind puzzles, complete a crossword puzzle, or any other activity that causes you to think and solve problems.

5. Electronic tools – There are more and more electronic tools available to help seniors keep their brains active and healthy.  Try a computer software game designed for this purpose, or get a handheld device  plus some of the special software that exists for this platform.  Keep it in your purse or pocket, and use it when you’re waiting for an appointment, riding the bus, or any other free moment that occurs.

Keep the rest of your body healthy.

There is a very strong relationship between the health of your brain and the health of the rest of your body, so don’t skimp in this area either.  Keep your body healthy with regular exercise, good nutrition, and a good night’s sleep.  If you smoke, stop; if you drink, do it in moderation.  Anything you can do to improve your physical condition and health will also improve the functioning of your brain.

Another way to keep your body (and your brain) healthy is to cut down on stress in your life.  Stress can cause you to feel fatigued, be more susceptible to illnesses, and be less active.  Additionally, the chemicals and enzymes produced in your brain due to stress can damage those synapses you’re working so hard to build up.  So take time to relax and don’t schedule your days with too many responsibilities or requirements.  Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or simply closing your eyes and letting yourself take a break.

Keeping your body healthy will also keep your brain healthy, resulting in a better overall quality of life.

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Linda Burhans is a keynote speaker, best-selling author and caregiver advocate with Harmony Home Health.

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