According to scientific research, keeping your brain active by doing brain exercises can cause your brain to maintain a greater number of neurons, commonly called a neuron reserve. These neurons can help you to maintain brainpower as you get older, and in some cases, can hold back the signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Many people do not realize the importance of exercising their brain, yet almost everyone realizes the importance of bodily exercise such as aerobics. It is just as important to keep your brain flexible and strong as it is to keep your body exercised and well toned. If you do not exercise your body, eventually you will get all flabby and out of shape. The same goes for your brain. No one wants a flabby brain, as once it gets out of shape it can be difficult to get it back into prime form again.
How can you exercise your brain? Crossword and word find puzzles do an excellent job of keeping your brain alert and active. Anagrams are useful as well. Some studies claim video games are also good brain exercises. Any task that requires some sort of mental effort makes an excellent exercise. The key to success is to do some form of brain exercise on a regular basis, just as you schedule physical exercise.
Working crossword puzzles, solving anagrams, or playing video games are a type of problem solving exercise. The difference is that with these problems, the solution is readily available somewhere. With puzzles and anagrams, the solution is typically in the back of the book or in the next day’s edition of the newspaper. Video games have tip lines to call and strategy guides available that will talk or walk you through any trouble you may be having with the game.
There is no tip line or strategy guide for the problems of life. We must solve this type of problem ourselves, using our brain power. Normally, there is no one correct solution to a problem, but some of the ones we can come up with are certainly better suited for the problem than others. This is where the technique of brainstorming can come in quite handy for all but the most personal of problems. A group of people can come up with many solutions that are quite creative. No one is timid about offering up possible solutions that seems to be rather unusual, for one of these may be just what is needed in order to take care of the problem.
What is most interesting about brainstorming is that someone who is not deeply involved with a problem can often come up with a perfect solution. This is a perfect example of being on the outside, looking in.
Mind Games and Memory Exercises
An aging brain can definitely benefit from the stimulation involved in playing mind games. These should be started no later than the age of 40, preferably much sooner. Even children can benefit from including mind games into their daily schedule. Studies have shown that the fitness of the brain can be improved by spending just a half hour a day with these pleasant little games.
Word games, brain teasers, logic puzzles, and math puzzles can give your brain a real memory workout. Memory exercises can improve both the memory and the attention span, and they don’t have to cost you a thing, as many of these games are online. With just a little searching, you can set up a veritable brain gym for yourself and the members of your family, right on your home computer.
The game of chess has always had a reputation for being tailor made for super-intelligent people. Chess is an excellent game to improve the mind, but there are other games that would do much the same thing. A lot depends on the individual who is playing the game. If a certain game is a challenge for you, and you can tell it makes you think a bit harder than you normally do, then that game will be just right for you to use in order to exercise your mind and memory.
Lifestyle Choices for Keeping Your Mind Sharp
Games like the ones that are mentioned above can have inestimable intellectual value for you, but they are definitely not the be all and end all for a fit and healthy brain. If you want optimal brain function (and I am sure you do, or you would not be reading this book!) then you may need to make some lifestyle changes.
We touched on proper diet earlier in this book, but nutrition is such an important part of keeping the brain in good shape that the subject deserves a bit more page space. You are what you eat is a saying that could not be more true when it comes to the brain.
Our brains have high nutrient requirements, as they use more energy to function properly than most people realize. It takes anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of your daily energy intake for your brain to function while it is at rest! If your brain is not receiving the proper nutrients, the entire chemistry of the organ can change. The nerve cells can also cease to function correctly without the proper diet.
Remember all those studies that were done to prove that children who did not eat breakfast were at a disadvantage when it came to learning in the classroom? They found that skipping breakfast lowered a person’s problem solving ability. It’s no wonder that some children are diagnosed as having learning disabilities early on.
Nutrition is important in regulating the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals whose job is to convey nerve impulses from one nerve cell to another. Lest you think that neurotransmitters are not important, you should know that they are responsible for the kind of mood you are in, the type of sleep pattern you have, and also the way you think.
It takes a fine balancing act of nutrients for these chemicals to do their job correctly. Too much or too little of certain vitamins and/or minerals have been known to cause memory changes, interfere with how the brain functions, and can damage nerves in your brain.
Socialization and Exercise
The brain craves social interaction with other people. Your brain also requires brisk blood flow, as well as the amount of oxygen that accompanies this blood flow. A perfect way to get in both of these requirements to join an exercise class. Cardiovascular exercise, done in the company of others, is something most people thoroughly enjoy. Scientists have learned through extensive research that those who get sufficient exercise and have an active social life are quite long-lived as well as mentally healthy.
Exercise forces you to use your brain power! Your brain has to send signals to your upper and lower body in order for you to move your limbs and exercise. Your eyes depend on the signals from your brain in order to see.
Any time you have an exercise partner, you tend to think getting exercise is a lot more fun than if you were working out alone. Even if you have decided to walk for your daily exercise, it is a lot more motivating to have a friend to walk with.
A study involving Alzheimer’s patients who lived in a nursing home found that those who got a moderate amount of exercise had much slower deterioration than those patients who did not exercise. Another study found that social interaction among seniors was a critical factor in the maintenance of mental health. Memory and brain power also benefit from inclusion in a social group.
Although older adults seem to benefit more from socialization and exercise, even children get a mental boost from exercise, and it shows up in better grades for them. The extra oxygen that comes from getting enough exercise is thought to be the key ingredient in this change, as the brain loves oxygen! Exercise also causes the brain to produce more brain cells, so people of all ages can benefit from physical fitness.
Mindfulness is also called awareness or insight meditation. When you meditate on a regular basis, the blood vessels get larger, and the cerebral cortex of the brain gets thicker and larger because of an increase in blood flow to that area. Western meditation, which is the most basic of all the meditation types, also increases the attention span, and allows you to focus more clearly.
You are more aware, more mindful of what you are meditating on, which is why this form is so aptly named. The mind is at rest as well as alert while you are meditating. In the Sanskrit language, the word meditation means ‘peacefully abiding’, and this is the way our mind is supposed to be. Calm, clear and happy is a natural state of being for the human brain, yet how often is the average person able to achieve this?
Mindfulness therefore means that we are completely in tune with our mind. You can train yourself to enter this state. With the ability to get away from the chaos of daily living, mindfulness meditation helps us to see just how our mind works. You will want to practice mindfulness exercises on a daily basis, and it is a good idea to choose a certain time of day, and then stick to it. Some people find mornings a perfect time, while others prefer to meditate in the evenings as a way to throw off the cares of their day.