8 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp
December 17th, 2021
Sometimes, it can be a challenge to switch our brains on. Life can be hectic. With so much going on in our lives, it’s easy to become sidetracked and a bit forgetful. If you’ve ever misplaced your car keys, or walked into a room and forgotten what you were doing, you’ll know the feeling.
Feeling like your brain isn’t working at 100% can be a frustrating experience, but for many, it’s just a part of life – it’s often the sign of a busy lifestyle, and is something that can happen with greater as we get older.
However, there are things that we can do to help keep our minds healthy, active and engaged. Studies have shown that positive lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on brain health, improve our cognitive functions, combat signs of depression, boost our overall quality of life and help us develop new social skills.
Looking for new ways to train your brain? Here’s a list of the most effective things that you can do to keep your mind healthy and active as you get older.
1. Get Moderate Exercise
As we get older, getting out and staying active can become more of a challenge, especially in the colder months. While staying inside might seem like a good idea at times, it can have a huge negative impact on our physical and mental health. Physical activity is one of the most proactive things we can do to keep our minds active.
Regular cardiovascular exercise elevates the heart rate and ensures that oxygen-rich blood flows to the brain, which helps to keep it happy, healthy, and engaged. Exercises can be varied, and there are a lot to choose from. The crucial part is that it provides a moderate level of activity. This can include activities like walking, running, and even dancing if the mood takes you!
Try adding some of these physical activities to your daily or weekly routine to boost blood flow to your brain:
- Walking in your local park
- Hiking on nearby nature trails
- Water aerobics
- Yoga or Tai Chi
Exercise is also good for our mental health too. A lack of physical activity can often leave us feeling unmotivated and restless, which can make it hard to feel engaged and to stay focused. Spending time out walking in nature or taking part in a team sport provides a wealth of stimulation, which can have a profound effect on our mood and help us clear our minds.
2. Enjoy Cooking and Prepare Brain-Boosting Food
Proper nutrition benefits both your body and your brain. Eating a balanced diet is a vital part of maintaining good health, which is necessary for us to stay actively engaged and focused.
Processed food and those high in saturated fats can raise “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, have a big impact on your circulatory health. Alternatively, nutrients such as omega-3 fats, B vitamins, phospholipids, plant antioxidants, including vitamin E and C play a significant role in maintaining good brain health.
Here are just some of the foods that can help keep your mind sharp:
- Whole Grains (barley, bulgar)
- Fish (salmon, cod, mackerel, sole, bass)
- Leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, lettuce)
- Nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashews)
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries)
- Beans (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas)
- Red Meat
It’s not just what you eat – preparing and cooking your food is a great way to keep your mind active. Creating new dishes can help stimulate your senses, which can contribute to the flow of endorphins. The act of cooking also requires planning, adapting, and discernment which exercises our critical thinking skills. As a result, it’s a great way to give your mind a mini-workout.
3. Socialise and Build New Connections
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that interacting with others is vital for our mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, studies have repeatedly shown that social engagement is essential for maintaining a healthy and engaged lifestyle, reducing rates of disability and mortality, and reducing the risk for depression and cognitive decline.
For some, being social can be a challenge. Issues such as disability can often make it difficult to get out and about, and it can often feel quite difficult to form and maintain new connections. However, there are a lot of options to explore to help us stay social and keep our minds engaged.
Looking for local clubs to join is always a great opportunity to engage with your local community. Book clubs, rambling walks, gardening clubs are just some of the things you can do. Joining a sports society can be a workout for your body and your mind in equal measure.
Technology is another great tool that we can use to stay social. It can help us stay connected with family and friends and help us interact with different generations all over the world. Join online forums for things that interest you to chat about things you’re passionate about, or join pen pal programs to meet people all over the world! Or why not try gaming communities? There’s something out there for everyone if you’re willing to take the plunge.
While making lots of connections is good, you don’t need a large social circle. Satisfaction, support, and reciprocity are all key factors in helping us stay engaged, not the number of relationships we form. In short, it’s the quality of our connections and not the quantity, that can make a world of difference.
4. Start a Creative Hobby
Creativity is good for our brains. It gives us the chance to flex our critical thinking skills, engage in problem-solving, and open our minds to new possibilities. Having a creative hobby can seriously improve your memory, helping you remember things more clearly and reduce stress and anxiety.
We can be creative in a wealth of different ways. Activities like drawing, painting, photography, crafting, knitting, and wood carving are just a few examples of the diverse pursuits that help to keep your mind sharp. Hobbies like miniature figurines, adult colouring, and building with lego are not only fun but give our brains a chance to switch off and relax.
Putting time and energy into creative pursuits can help us develop exciting new skills, and often result in unique and quirky items. Collecting them, selling them or giving them away can help generate feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment which can have a positive impact on quality of life.
5. Get into Gaming
Playing games is an incredibly effective way to exercise our brains. Studies have shown that gaming can help us to engage in critical thinking skills, encourage us to build social connections and help us to switch on our competitive edge and feel motivated. Feeling motivated and motivated towards a goal can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. These happy hormones have the power to improve cognitive functions and can make us feel happy and content.
Gaming can come in a variety of forms. Board games require us to switch our brains on and engage with rules to move towards a goal and can come from both traditional games and new modern iterations. Gaming cafes are a great way to get out, interact with other board game fans and try new things.
Video games are another way to get these good feelings. They allow us to explore engaging stories, immerse ourselves in completely new worlds and meet exciting new characters both online and offline. If you’ve never played a video game before and don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Video games are designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages, and offer in-game tutorials to help guide players through the experience.
Don’t believe us? Then check out Hamako Mori. Affectionately known as ‘Gamer Grandma, the 90-year-old has gained an impressive following on Youtube playing games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Super Mario Brothers, and even Call of Duty. Asked to describe how gaming has changed her life, Mori said “After living for this long, I feel more than ever that playing games was the right choice. I am truly enjoying my life – it’s rosy.”
Puzzle games are a happy medium and can be played in real life or through a computer screen. These “brain games” often involve problem-solving, memory, and puzzle components. Puzzle games can include everything from Tetris and Sudoku to point and click murder mystery games, ensuring there’s something out there for everyone.
6. Read More and Get Writing
Reading books benefits both your physical and mental health, and those benefits can last a lifetime. A study in the journal Neurology found that regular reading and writing in late life reduced the rate of memory decline by 32%. In short, there’s a lot of incentive to dive into your favourite books and find new literary worlds to explore.
With so much competition for our attention in our day to day lives, finding time for reading can be quite challenging. The best thing to do is to try and set time aside and look for ways to make reading a regular habit. Joining a local or online book club can be a great way to make time, create new connections and find new titles to try out.
Subscribing to hobby magazines and things that interest you can also provide a steady stream of new material to read. In addition, reading local and national newspapers can help keep you engaged and informed about things going on in the world, which can make for great conversation starters and discussions.
Writing is another great way to give our brains a workout. Writing requires us to engage our critical and creative skills, which can provide a positive boost for our memory and ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Poetry, journaling and even writing song lyrics are examples of the different kinds of writing you can try your hand at.
7. Get the Right Amount of Sleep
Sleep can have a profound effect on our well-being, in more ways than one. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can lead to trouble with memory, concentration, and other key cognitive functions such as awareness and our ability to interact with others. Sleep also plays a vital role in helping our bodies regenerate, and without it, we can often find it hard to find the energy to get through the day.
While staying in bed might seem like a good idea at times, oversleeping can have its drawbacks, particularly on our mental health. Too much time in bed can cause us to feel fatigued and like we haven’t slept at all. It can also have a huge impact on our mood, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.
To maintain good health and keep our brains at their best, the NHS recommends that all adults (especially 65 and over) should aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night to maintain good health.
Struggling to sleep? Here are a few key tips to help:
- The key to good sleep is creating a good routine. Try to maintain a consistent bedtime and stick with it – even on the weekends.
- Try to avoid stimulants like coffee, cigarettes, sugary drinks and snacks at least 3 hours before you head to bed, and Opt for decaf options where possible.
- Limiting your alcohol intake 4-6 hours before bed. Alcohol disrupts REM and slow-wave sleep, which are important for memory.
- Avoid big meals before you go to bed. Large serving sizes can irritate your stomach which can cause discomfort. If you do get hungry, try small healthy snacks instead.
8. Listen to Music, Or Make Your Own
Music has an amazing capacity to influence how we think and feel.
Research supported by Harvard University has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mental alertness, memory and overall mood. Listening to and playing music can activate almost all brain regions and networks, a process that has a positive impact on our well-being, learning ability, cognitive function, quality of life, and happiness. Thanks to technology, there are lots of ways to listen to our favourite tunes and discover new tracks:
- Radio: Whether you’re in the car or doing the dishes, the radio is a great way to enjoy music as you go about your day today. Try local, national and genre-led stations to find new tracks.
- YouTube: A classic way to search for your favourite songs, music videos, or instrument tutorials. You can listen to your favourite songs while learning to play them.
- Streaming Platforms: There are lots of streaming platforms that can be downloaded to almost any device. Check out Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music or Deezer to find the right one for you.
- Live Events: Sometimes there’s nothing better than live music. Check online to see if your favourite artist is on tour, or book something completely random to try something new.
When it comes to learning an instrument, it can even affect how our brains are structured. Playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience because it engages every single sense and challenges the brain to utilise memory and fine motor skills.
A study published in Neuroscientist found that musical training can lead to improved cognitive function such as coordination and reaction time. It can also improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development.
Taking up an instrument has never been easier. Visit your local music shop to ask about tuition and advice. Alternatively, learn how to play by attending online classes with dedicated instructors. Classes for virtually any instrument can be found on sites like Udemy and SkillShare.
Taking Care of Your Mind and Memory
By incorporating just a few of these things into your day to day you’ll be able to give your brain a good workout and keep your mind razor-sharp. While poor memory isn’t necessarily a sign of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the chances of developing dementia increase as we get older. Other signs might also present themselves, and include:
- Struggle to remember recent events, but have no trouble recalling things from longer ago
- Struggle to recall things you have heard, seen or read recently
- Forget the names of people around you
- Find it hard to follow threads of conversation
- Regularly lose your train of thought
- Misplacing items or putting objects in unusual places
- Feel confused, even in a familiar place, or get lost on familiar journeys
- Not taking care of oneself —eating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely
- Find that people comment on your memory loss
If you’re worried about your memory, or about the well-being of someone you know, the first thing you should do is to seek medical advice. Your doctor will be able to talk to you about your concerns, will be able to help with your questions and help signpost you to receive the best care. You may be referred to a local memory clinic or hospital specialist where further assessments will take place so you can get a diagnosis.
If you’re looking for more information on how we look after we wellbeing of our residents, from those with sharp minds and those needing to stretch their brain muscles, take a look at our living experience pages or simply contact one of our team members.