The kids and the grandkids are in school, learning new things every day. But what should the rest of us do to keep our brains active and alert? We’ve all heard that we can reduce our chances of suffering from dementia in our golden years by eating right, maintaining our cardiovascular fitness through aerobic activities and weight training, and by exercising our brains.
How do we exercise our brains? Well, it’s not just by doing crossword puzzles. Yes, crossword puzzles are good, but according to Dr. Marie Pasinski, a Harvard Medical School neurologist who wrote our book about boosting your brain power, they are more of a routine occupation than a brain exercise.
Exercising your brain means doing things that are new and different such as learning to play a musical instrument or visiting a foreign country, and everyday things like volunteering and having an active social life.
Easy Ways to Stretch Your Brain Muscle
Dr. Pasinski included an essay by Jennie Ivey called “Get Out of That Rut!” in her brainpower book. It provides some practical, easy ideas for waking up our brains as we go about our daily activities. I’ve tried a couple of the suggestions already – shopping at different grocery stores where the layout is unfamiliar and using my left hand to do things like brushing my teeth.
Here are a few more of Jennie’s ways to stimulate your brain:
- Tie your shoelaces a different way.
- Watch a television show that’s broadcast in a foreign language.
- Drive to town using a different route.
- Reverse the order in which you read the newspaper.
- Get dressed in the dark.
- Thread your belt through the loops in the opposite direction.
- Put your earrings on in reverse order.
- Kick a soccer ball with your non-dominant foot.
- Walk backwards for one hundred steps.
Pandemic Brain Exercises
Just to be au courant, I would add playing Wordle to that list! I started playing this word game a month ago when my 35-year-old son told me about it. It’s free from The New York Times – for now – and it’s fun. It seems like everyone I know is doing it.
And now that we all know how to “stream” TV because of the pandemic, I would add that you should watch a channel or a TV series that you would ordinarily not consider. That’s an easy way to stretch your brain muscle.
Make Your Brain Uncomfortable
Charles Dickens, who was a prolific writer his whole life, said, “Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” And that’s the message I take away from Dr. Pasinski’s book.
We have to make our brains uncomfortable, so that they stretch and adapt and create new neural pathways. It is so tempting to fall into a rut and follow the same patterns of behavior day after day. I know I enjoy my routines, but at age 65 I don’t want to get too comfortable. So if you see a little toothpaste on my shirt, you’ll know I’ve been trying to brush left-handed again.
What do you do to keep your brain active and challenged? Are you playing Wordle every day along with everyone you know? Will you change up one of your regular habits to stimulate your brain?