Long Live The Brain

By Kristen Castillo

April 26, 2019 5 min read

It's important to keep your brain sharp as you age.

"In order to engage our brains for an ideal level of challenge, we should aim for something that is new, novel and challenging to maximize our effort -- grow our brains, new neurons and strengthen our neuronal networks," says certified brain health coach Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, M.A., founder of Your Brain Health Matters, LLC and an Atlantic fellow for Equity in Brain Health.

Dr. Culler says brain health is 70% lifestyle and 30% genetics. She encourages people to think about brain fitness the same way they think about physical exercise. That means giving your brain a 15- to 20-minute daily workout, adding up to at least two hours a week.

Read on for easy ways to stimulate your brain.

Game On!

Playing games -- whether it's chess, puzzles or computer games, such as Words With Friends or gem matching -- may help your brain to stay engaged.

For example, smartphone apps can be an entertaining and challenging activity for the brain. One app, Elevate, which was Apple's pick for 2014's top app, uses artificial intelligence to create custom exercises for each user, tailored to their personal goals.

In a four-week study of 125 Elevate users, conducted for the game company by a researcher at California State University, Stanislaus, and Nichols Research, Inc., participants who had access to Elevate games and training exercises improved their test scores "69% more than the control group, which did not have access to the games and exercises."

While research on the overall benefits of cognitive games is mixed, one study shows participants may get good at a mind-stimulating activity, such as crosswords, even if those gaming skills don't transfer to other brain health, like attention to problem-solving.

Still, that doesn't mean the activity isn't valuable. You can have a healthier, happier life by participating in games and activities you enjoy.

"Having fun with new learning experiences or engaging in topics that are of interest to us can pique our curiosity and increase our likelihood to stay engaged," says Dr. Culler.

*Read

Challenge your brain with reading but mix up your habits.

Dr. Culler suggests reading a different section of the newspaper than you usually would or reading a new magazine. Next, read some passages out loud, which she says can activate different areas of your brain.

Read your newspaper, book or magazine with the intent to share the message with friends. You will be more mindful and process the information differently.

*Set New Goals

Try new things. Set an intention to do something new, such as visiting museums, attending talks, etc., for the next week or month. Map it out and invite a friend. Dr. Culler says both the planning process and socialization have brain benefits, too.

*Meditate

Clearing your mind can be good for your brain as well.

"Set aside time daily to cool your brain, practice mindfulness or meditate," says Dr. Culler. "Meditation is an excellent brain workout, and studies have found numerous benefits for the brain. If meditation is not a daily part of your routine, aim to add it in."

She recommends starting with a few minutes of meditation a day and working up to 20 minutes or longer.

Search online, such as on YouTube, for free meditation videos or check out meditation apps like Calm and Headspace.

*Healthy Habits

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America encourage people to adopt healthy habits to help improve brain health. Among their recommendations:

-- Get moving: "Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain." This can include brisk walking.

-- Eat healthy: "In general, foods that are 'heart heathy' are also 'brain healthy.'" Avoid processed and fatty foods as well as salt and sugar. Instead, eat berries, broccoli and other fresh foods.

-- Get consistent sleep: Aim for seven to nine hours of shut-eye nightly, as proper sleep helps memory and thinking.

-- Mix up your routine: For example, "brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand stimulates the brain by forcing it to think outside of its normal routine."

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