Boosting Your Cognitive Fitness and Longevity


             Nine easy ways to lessen your chances of developing dementia

I think most people, women especially, fear that in some point in their lives, they’ll lose their minds. Yes, we are all swamped and overstressed. That comes with the territory. And how many of us, after a hard day’s work or caring for our children – or both — order a bottle of wine in a restaurant and turn to our husbands and say: “And what will you be drinking?” (What? I’m the only one?)

I’m referring, in essence, to the kind of cognitive disconnect that causes you to panic when you lose your keys or bump into someone on the street who knows you — but you just can’t seem to mentally place where you’ve met them before. And you’re too embarrassed to ask, thinking it might, in fact, be the person who lives on your floor with whom you chat while waiting for the elevator, or one of your children’s best friends’ mothers. But is it inevitable that our brain cells will diminish along with our estrogen levels and the hope of ever having thinner thighs?

Thankfully, it is not. And it isn’t limited to keeping our minds healthy, either. But while many adults don’t think of developing themselves cognitively, they should — particularly since cognition is one of the four categories of fitness that can add up to fifteen years onto our lives and greatly impact the quality of those extra years.

Further good news is that you can seem so much younger than your chronological age – even without lying about it — by making certain lifestyle choices, including those that tax or challenge the brain. In essence, whenever we learn something new, engage in new activities, or even ponder a new concept, the brain will rewire itself in response.

right, let’s get right to the point here (before I forget what I’m writing about) and learn how we can do it. There are several positive ways to start to build better cognition and lessen the chances of developing diminished cognitive ability, dementia, or Alzheimer’s later on in life. Here are nine start-up suggestions:

Exercise to improve cognitive function:

Aside from increasing your ability to learn, handle stressful situations, make clear decisions, and recall facts and memories, exercise also revs up blood flow to the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory. One recent study found that the loss of tissue density in the brain was less in those who were aerobically fit, which is another way of saying fit people have better cognitive functioning.

Watch TV and read “actively:”

The difference between watching The Bachelorette or an educational science show is how active your brain has to be. TV is only mentally enriching when it takes effort to understand what you’re seeing, or sparks questions, ideas, or “aha” moments. The same is true for reading. A celebrity tabloid magazine takes less brain power to flip through than, say, a magazine such as Smithsonian. Develop new connections in your brain by reading something that’s instructive instead of just entertaining. Then, to boost retention, make yourself recall what you just learned.

Take up a new hobby:

Increase cognitive enrichment by taking on an active pursuit, as opposed to simply attending a baseball game or concert. Try gardening, antiquing, learning an instrument or foreign language, raising area-appropriate animals like ostriches, chickens, pigeons or bees, day trading stock or selling items on the internet. Read books, talk to experts, take classes, attend conferences, or join organizations related to your hobby. All of this extra learning activity develops new connections between neurons, which helps offset cell loss due to aging or disease.

Solve all types of puzzles:

Puzzles are another outstanding way to build new synapses in the brain. And there are many types other than crosswords. For instance, try Sudoku or such word-oriented brain-teasers as acrostics, cryptograms, or syllacrostics. It’s particularly effective to seek out a variety.

Play board and card games:

Chess and checkers are excellent choices because almost every game is unique, requiring a different set of strategies each time. Similarly, card games from bridge to poker can help preserve cognitive functioning because the player continues to perfect the most effective techniques according to the opponent’s playing style. You can also play card games on a computer.

Visit museums, zoos, and historical sites:

There are numerous specialty museums as well as zoos and historical sites that will help you build better brain power. To get the most out of the visit from that standpoint, don’t be a passive visitor. Read the signage next to the exhibits, try to repeat the key information to yourself, and then do it again once or twice during or after your visit. Not only will you retain what the exhibits were about, but with some occasional recall attempts, you increase the odds of being able to remember the information months or even years later.

Become a student again:

Many continuing education courses are available that do not require being in a degree program; you sign up for one or two courses whenever you feel like it. Relatively inexpensive, they are available through community colleges. As a student, you will have many opportunities to explore different areas, and most instructors will give tests that will force you to recall the information learned. Courses run the gamut from technical subjects to local history, public speaking, relationships and poetry.

Attend workshops:

Workshops, conferences, and other gatherings where professionals in their field share their knowledge are another way to build brain function through active learning. While these are commonly offered in a person’s profession, you may find many others connected with hobbies and personal interests. For example, take a workshop on how to trace your family’s ancestry. Or join a group involved in backyard astronomy.

Reduce stress and address depression:

People who are stressed or depressed are more likely to suffer from cognitive problems down the line. While medications can reduce the symptoms, they neither cure nor get to the root of the issues. Many meds have side-effects and also require ever-increasing dosages to be effective. So try to find more natural stress relievers and anti-depressants, including exercise, naps, individual counseling, meditation, relaxing hobbies, career rejuvenation, goal setting and spiritual growth.

So the next time you look madly around for your iPhone only to discover that you happen to be talking on it at the time or find a dishwasher pod in the compartment of your purse that usually holds your Metro card (who me?), you can still be Better Than Before with many memorable years ahead of you if you continually stimulate your brain cells.