Brain exercises for seniors

Published 4:50 pm Saturday, November 24, 2018

Most people think that memory loss is a natural part of aging — not so, according to an article in “Science Daily:” “Memory loss is not a part of normal aging, new research finds.”

That is good news for those who have what some people call, “senior moments.” Taking a proactive role in maintaining the strength and vitality of the mind and body will keep muscles, as well as the brain, fit. Even if you don’t exercise regularly, just keeping an active lifestyle can be one key to brain and body health.

According to research, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent, and regular brain exercises can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70 percent, according to Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention. In addition, studies have shown that women from the ages of 40 to 60 who exercise regularly have a dramatic reduction in memory loss and cognitive decline. Even formal cognitive training has benefits. According to an active trial from Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, healthy adults over 65 who participated in memory training, reasoning training and or/speed training, improved mental skills, and the improvements persisted 10 years after the training was completed.

To see benefits to the body and mind from physical exercise, one should work up to one hour per day, three days per week. However, you will see benefits to the brain and body with any activity that gets your heart pumping and your muscles moving, such as brisk or treadmill walking, bike riding, water exercise, dance or cardio classes.

Any activity that engages the brain, such as a favorite hobby, computer games or puzzles will provide benefits to cognitive function. Experimenting with music has many benefits for the brain, as well. There are thousands of YouTube videos to teach yourself to play any instrument. Signing up for a class to learn how to play an instrument might seem somewhat daunting, but the best time to do it is now. Let go of any expectations and judgments and just have fun.

The act of learning something new and utilizing your abstract thought process is the important part of the brain exercise.

Reading is a wonderful way to keep learning. The local library has literally thousands of books that one can check out or download to a phone, computer or tablet. It is just that easy to learn. Reading the daily newspaper is another way to engage the brain. Get together with friends to form a book club and experience new books to discuss and debate the ideas you have formed from the novels.

Writing is considered to be another brain exercise. Start small by keeping a journal and then, if you like, move on to writing short stories or write about your life.

Learning a new language is a fun and challenging brain exercise. Combine language lessons with researching the country’s culture. Even if you don’t plan to travel to that destination, just the experience of this activity can be fun and useful in the future.

Think of the brain as another muscle that needs exercise to stay strong and healthy. Challenge the brain and body with exercises to prevent a plateau and boredom. Look to your community for activities you might like to try that are interesting and fun. Community activities with friends can keep your mind and body engaged and feeling strong.

Judy Van Dorp is the director of the Vidant Wellness Center in Washington. For any questions on this topic or others, you can contact her at 252-975-4236.