Just like your muscles need exercise, your brain needs mental workouts to stay in shape.
But your gray matter gets so good at doing your daily routine that it barely has to work at it. So, you have to go above and beyond your everyday activities to stimulate it. That can help you prevent or reverse memory loss as you age, research suggests.
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Whether you're young and want to stay sharp for as long as possible, or you're getting older and are concerned about conditions like dementia, you can do a few things to protect your brain and boost your mental abilities.
Use It or Lose It
Keep your mind active. Stay involved in pastimes that make you think on several levels. It’s not enough to mindlessly flip through TV channels, surf the web, or scroll through Facebook.
"We spend too much time on low-level activities that drain the brain," says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. "Instead, take information in, combine it with the rich knowledge already stored in your brain, and transform it into new ideas."
Do this on a regular basis to strengthen the networks in your brain. This can help keep you quick-witted for years to come.
Read or Watch, Then Discuss
Reading a book or even watching TV or movies can be good for your brain -- if you learn something new and think it over afterward. Even better, talk about it with other people, says Norman S. Werdiger, MD, associate clinical professor of neurology at Yale. This helps you make sense of the information on a deeper level.
Talking with other people has its own brain-boosting benefits. You could join a book club or have friends over to watch a movie, then discuss it
"When you have conversations with other people, you're getting feedback from them on how you're doing mentally," Werdiger says, "and you're forced to consider what you're saying and how you're behaving."
This is especially important for older people who spend a lot of time alone. Try to see friends or family regularly to avoid loneliness and depression, which have been linked to lower brain function.