Working on Your Mental Fitness
WRITTEN BY MARESA GIOVANNINI
Photography by MartinPrescott/E+/Getty Images.
In the world of health, there is a lot of emphasis on physical fitness. You know you’re supposed to eat right, get thirty minutes of exercise at least three times a week, see your doctor annually, and avoid all the vices. But you don’t get as many regular reminders about keeping your brain as fit as your body. As the societal norm moves away from a foundation of community, the simple interactions that once kept people’s minds engaged are waning. Whether you want to improve your memory or be proactive so you can stay sharp as a tack for the long run, consider adding some of these activities to your to-do list today.
What’s Up, Doc?
For starters, if you’re having regular forgetfulness or brain fog, make an appointment to see your doctor. Although mental exercises shouldn’t hurt, there is always the potential that you are dealing with a bigger health issue. Physical conditions and illnesses can contribute to forgetfulness, so it’s important to make sure everything is OK before jumping to the conclusion that you are just tired, too busy, or have age-related memory loss.
Learn Something New
One of the biggest boons for your brain health is to keep on learning. Whether you attend a class, join a book club, tune in to a podcast, or teach yourself a new skill, the act of learning can stimulate new cell growth, according to a 2016 article by Harvard Health Publishing. You’re never too old to learn something new. If group classes aren’t for you, grab your closest friends and sign up for a game of pub trivia. Try an online course or language learning tapes at home. Or start even smaller by adding a word of the day or week to your routine.
Practice with Puzzles
You know the old adage a puzzle a day keeps the doctor away, right? OK, that might not be how the saying traditionally goes, but it’s worth a try. Pick up a couple of TV Guide-size books of crossword puzzles, sudoku, word jumbles, and the like. The lightweight books are easy to take with you wherever you go and a fun way to keep you busy in between appointments or while you’re waiting in line at school pick-up. Adult coloring and mindfulness books are abundantly available too. Word and number puzzles are healthy alternatives to scrolling your phone and great tools to help keep your wheels turning.
Any type of learning is impactful, but studies have shown that attending at least one art-related activity per month is especially valuable to your cognitive function. Check out a local play, gallery exhibit, or concert to stimulate your brain in new ways. There is medicine in music, which has been shown to have a positive impact on people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although the music of your youth can help with memory function, listening to new-to-you-music challenges your brain in a different way, according to the experts at John Hopkins Medicine. Gather artist recommendations from friends and relatives and switch up your rotation every week for a while. Blogger Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, does this activity with her four-year-old daughter. Her family writes the names of artists on slips of paper, puts them in a jar, and draws a new one to listen to every week. It’s one way to make mental health fun for the whole family.
Work It Out
Because everything is connected when it comes to health, you will still want to pay close attention to diet and physical exercise to keep your brain performing at capacity. Mix it up with aerobic, strength-based, and mind-body activities to encourage plenty of oxygen and blood flow to your brain. As long as you’re moving your body regularly, exercises can be low impact. Moving your fork to your mouth doesn’t count as low-impact exercise, but what you consume at mealtime is significant. Harvard Health lists green vegetables, fatty fish, berries, tea and coffee, and walnuts as the five foods linked to better brainpower. So take a brisk walk to the kitchen, fix yourself a healthful snack, put on some music, and pick up a crossword puzzle for peace of mind.