Health & Fitness » Lifestyle

New Year’s Resolution: Exercise Your Brain!

Amy Dean
What’s the most low-cost, and one of the most effective, exercise programs you can embark on in the New Year? It’s exercising your brain! Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku has said, “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”
When you grow older, you not only lose muscle over time, but your brain can atrophy as well. This can cause neurological damage and impact memory loss, making it more difficult to perform mental tasks. But just as physical workouts tone your muscles and enhance flexibility, regularly performing brain exercises can help maintain brain function and keep your mind sharp and alert. Even the simplest of brain exercises can increase blood flow, which carries oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the brain and stimulates it.
The best thing about brain exercises is that you don’t have to go to a gym; you can do them anywhere, any time. Plus, they’re free! Here are a few fun brain exercises to keep your mind sharp in the new year.
Try neurobics
Neurobics challenge your mind and body to think and do differently. Button your shirt or tie your shoelaces with your eyes closed. Have a non-conversational lunch with a friend or family member, using only facial expressions and hand gestures to “converse.” If you’re right-handed, use your left hand more often, such as when brushing your teeth, and vice versa. Simply by varying simple routines, your mind can become more engaged.
Puzzle it out
Do crossword puzzles, word challenge games, put together a jigsaw puzzle or try Sudoku. Start at the easiest levels and work your way into harder ones. You can find a wealth of brain games that only require downloading a free app.
Be informed
Write down on a piece of paper five things you don’t know anything about, such as a hobby or sport, a foreign culture, how to play Bridge, cooking, gardening — you name it! Then mix up the pieces of paper, close your eyes and select one. Now it’s time to explore and learn more about that subject. You don’t have to become an expert in the subject. Just utilize the Internet, books from the local library or take a class so you can engage your brain in a whole new subject area.
Take a tasty test
Make a list of all the items in your refrigerator or list all of the ingredients for a recipe. Memorize it, then later on in the day test your recall of the list. As you increase your recall, make the lists harder.
Go back to school
There are a number of interesting classes offered at community centers that are inexpensive. Take a cooking class. Learn how to play a musical instrument. Learn a new sport or even a foreign language.
Use your imagination
Take a walk around the block and think about how you would decorate each home and yard with fun themes — a birthday party home, a pirate’s home, a home for forest animals and so on.
Be hands on
Take up a hobby that requires good hand-eye coordination, such as putting together a model airplane, knitting or sewing, baking bread or drawing a still life picture.
Math walk
While taking a daily walk, figure out math problems in your head.
Word up
Think of any word, then list on a piece of paper as many words as you can that begin or end with the same letters. For an extra challenge, play this game with friends or family members, or think of words that begin and end with the same letters.
These are just a few ideas to exercise your brain and keep your memory sharp. As Ernesto Bertarelli, Swiss businessman and philanthropist, said, “You can’t change who you are, but you can change what you have in your head; you can refresh what you’re thinking about; you can put some fresh air in your brain.”
Worcester resident Amy Dean is the author of Growing Older, Growing Better: Daily Meditations for Celebrating Aging.

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