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healthy living | MENTAL FITNESS

Train your brain

“Use it or lose it.” You know it applies to your muscles, but did you know it also applies to your brain? Keeping your brain active is key to keeping it working effi ciently.

Mental fitness is one key to aging well. You can train your brain to remember more, concentrate better and learn more. This training can speed your reactions and sharpen your thinking. Mental exercise makes the synapses and blood vessels in your brain denser and your nerves fi re faster. The fi rst steps to mental fi tness are healthy behaviors: eating a balanced diet, being physically active and sleeping well. The next step is to challenge your brain with stimuli.

Top foods FOR YOUR BRAIN ...


Challenge your brain by testing your knowledge. Crosswords, for example, and other word games stimulate your recall and ability to make connections. The key is to keep trying harder games, because the benefi t of a game grows less as you do it more often.


Many people fi nd it a challenge to sit calmly and think of only one thing. Practice focusing your mind on an object, a sound or a phrase. When other thoughts intrude, push them away and refocus. Over time you’ll fi nd you can concentrate longer— and your stress level, in turn, will go down.


Another kind of challenge can sharpen your memory. The next time you need groceries, make a list before you go to the store and study it briefl y. Think about what each item looks like. Don’t look at the list while shopping. Just try to remember the picture of each item.


Your senses can get in a rut. Learning to see, hear, taste or move in a new way builds connections between different parts of your brain. Learning to dance or using your “weak” hand for a routine task causes your brain to forge new connections. You can also try studying a language or playing a musical instrument.

+ Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fi sh and walnuts, make up part of the synapses (nerve connections).

+ Green tea contains antioxidants.


Numbers are good exercise, too. Try fi guring tips or sales taxes in your head instead of using a calculator. Figure out how much change you should get before you see what the register says.


Paying close attention to a piece of art can sharpen memory and make new connections. You can be an actor (learning to draw the human fi gure, for example) or an observer (studying a certain genre of music).


Even if you’re not a social butterfl y, your brain can benefi t from getting together with others to chat, to work on a project or to do a new activity.


Put your new abilities to work by teaching someone else what you’ve learned. Explaining a technique or demonstrating a skill engages your brain in doing and communicating.

Keeping your mental abilities sharp by continuing to exercise your brain in new ways can help to stave off losses in old age. So, take time to turn on your curiosity and fi nd new challenges for your brain.

24 issue 1, 2014 midwest health+wellness

+ Water keeps you hydrated.


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