Essential tips for keeping your mind sharp

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Most people focus on the physical changes that happen as you age – muscles don’t bounce back the way they used to, hair becomes gray and skin begins to wrinkle. But we often pass over one area that really deserves our attention: the brain. Not only can a healthy and active brain help you ward off disease, it can also help you live a more satisfying life.

Researchers have long touted the benefits of continued learning and education for an aging mind. “New learning can lead to neurophysiological growth, similar to the way aerobics leads to stronger cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Paul Nussbaum, clinical neuropsychologist and an authority on brain research and aging. “Older adults can benefit from being challenged, and should continue exploring the world and engaging in new pursuits.”

Nussbaum says there are many ways to keep your mind active and sharp at any age; for example:

1. Brain workouts – Engage your brain daily. Working with numbers is a great option. Try Sudoku, a numbers game using grids that has become very popular in the United States. If numbers don’t appeal to you, quiz yourself about historical events and check your accuracy. Crossword puzzles and word finds are practical and affordable options as well.

2. Travel and explore – Stimulating your mind with travel and learning experiences is a great brain-health activity. Elderhostel, the world’s largest nonprofit educational travel organization, offers a wide variety of affordable travel experiences across the U.S. and in more than 90 countries. These all-inclusive programs offer behind-the-scenes access to fascinating places and provide camaraderie with new friends, comfortable accommodations and appetizing meals at an excellent value.

Since today’s baby boomers don’t consider themselves “elderly,” the organization is changing the name of its programs to Exploritas to better reflect the active mindset of Elderhostel participants and their passion for exploration and new experiences. Elderhostel is also expanding its offerings by adding new programs and a social networking feature on its Web site,

3. Read whatever you can – Books, newspapers and magazines – reading is a great way to keep your brain active and mind sharp. Plus, depending on what interests you, you might be able to learn something new. Visit your local library for a free resource to just about any literary work you’re interested in.

4. Have quality conversation daily – Engaging in social activity is a great way to keep your brain active, plus it increases quality of life. See if there is a community group of your peers that you could join – card club, book club, Rotary. Or, start volunteering for a cause that interests you – this will allow for plenty of interaction with people of different ages.

5. Learn something new – You’re never too old or too young to learn something new. Try taking an affordable community education class or look for free opportunities in your neighborhood. Learn to play an instrument, speak a new language, plant a garden or start a new hobby. You might be surprised with how much fun you have.

6. Switch up your routine – A good way to keep your mind sharp is to change up your routine. Try opposite-hand exercises like brushing your hair or teeth with the hand you don’t usually use or opening the door with your left hand instead of your right.

7. Get physically active – Moving your body and staying physically active can help with cognitive health. Physical movement increases blood flow to the brain and the act of walking, swimming, biking, etc., helps work the brain as it communicates with the body to move. Elderhostel offers many programs that allow boomers to stay active through exciting outdoor activities. For instance, an Exploritas program in Maine offers participants a chance to sea kayak, bike and hike while exploring Acadia National Park.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

museumhike.jpgActivities that stimulate your mind and provide social interaction are good for any age.
icehike.jpgPhysical activity stimulates the brain/body connection, helping to retain a certain youthfulness throughout life.