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We all know it's important to keep your body in shape by going to the gym and exercising, but have you ever thought about how to exercise your brain?
Mental fitness and brain health is every bit as important as physical fitness as we age, and there's a lot that we can do to keep our brain sharp, from healthy lifestyle habits to playing games. Keep reading for the top tips, studies and products that can help on your brain health journey.
While the research is still being explored, there is evidence that suggests some brain games may help with cognitive function.
A 2017 study found that training centred around processing speed (a type of cognitive training), reduced the risk of developing dementia. While the study focused on individuals aged 71 or older, even younger people can benefit from mental fitness, helping to improve memory and processing speed.
Different parts of our brain have different functions, and games and crossword puzzles can help you target and exercise those different parts and their functions. For instance, word games can help build the parts of your brain associated with language and reasoning, while mazes and jigsaw puzzles can bolster the parts that help with processing visual shapes and patterns.
To easily incorporate some brain-boosting games into your routine, look to the classics like sudoku, crossword puzzles or brain teasers. Plus there are a number of apps that can help with processing speed and visual skills like Mehncke’s Brain HQ or CogniFit.
Boost your memory and your physique
If you are looking to improve your memory, UCLA researchers and the Gallup organization found that people with healthy habits in general (physical exercise, not smoking etc.) had better memory scores. Participants who engaged in just one healthy habit were 21 per cent less likely to report memory problems.
A new study in the journal Alzheimers and Dementia also found that exercise in older adults increases the protein known for strengthening communication between the brain cells across synapses — which is part of maintaining good cognition.
Wearing a fitness tracker can incentivize you to get out there and keep you on track to improving your fitness. And as an added bonus, experts suggest trying new things can help put your brain to use, as it's forced to problem solve during new activities. If you are a runner you can try a different route, or if you normally just do yoga, switching things up with pilates can put your brain to work.
Don't skimp on sleep and relaxation
When it comes to improving brain function, a good sleep routine is essential. A study published by Jama Neurology showed that sleeping 6 hours or less per night was associated with impaired cognition and memory, which may be the push you need to get your beauty rest.
In addition to a good night's sleep, meditation has also been found to increase grey matter in the brain (which decreases as we age), impacting our memory and cognition. If you are just starting out, you can begin with a short five-minute meditation and using a guided app like InsightTimer.
Research has shown that those who focus on gratitude everyday may actually rewire their brain's positive neural pathways. One study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who kept a gratitude journal had greater improvements in optimism, while another study showed that practicing gratitude could even help you get a better night’s rest.
If you're considering making a small change that could lead to big impacts in your mood and overall health, a gratitude journal is an easy place to start. One popular gratitude journal is ideal for beginners, as it has great prompts and only requires five minutes to incorporate into your day.
So what are you waiting for? Start getting in some exercise, bring out the crossword puzzles and get better at mental fitness.