By Pete Alfano
Are you the type of person who enjoys playing mind games? Not the kind where you try to antagonize or mess with someone’s head, but games that stimulate your brain and give it a good workout. There are a few things you should know ahead of time that eliminate any misconceptions about how our brain works and the benefits derived from brain exercises. First, let’s separate fact from fiction. A survey completed in 2013 found that 65% of Americans believe the long-held notion we use only 10% of our brain. But according to neurologist Barry Gordon in Scientific American, we use most of our brain all the time, depending on what we are doing. It’s working even when we sleep.
You have probably also heard or read about dietary supplements touting to improve brain health. Be mindful that supplements are regulated differently by the Food and Drug Administration. Supplements may include beneficial ingredients, but they may not necessarily improve brain function or prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Physical exercise is a key component to having a healthy brain, which applies to people of all ages. Exercising your brain is not just for older people having an increasing number of senior moments. From yoga and tai chi to dancing, biking, jogging, swimming, or simply going for a walk, any physical activity is as important for maintaining a healthy brain as it is for your heart and other bodily organs.
Then, of course, there are ways to improve cognitive health while you are sitting down. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles are popular choices. Crossword puzzles can improve vocabulary and knowledge. Jigsaw puzzles improve visuospatial function, which is the ability to see where the pieces of the puzzle belong.
From poker and bridge to gin rummy, hearts, solitaire, Go Fish, Uno, and war, every card game makes you think and tests your memory. Which cards have been played? What cards might the other players be holding? Board games such as chess and checkers, Concentration, Clue, and Monopoly can challenge your mind as well.
If you prefer technology, popular apps are another option. Lumosity may be the best known. It offers dozens of games that test your speed, memory, attention span, and problem-solving ability. Among others are BrainHQ, CogniFit Brain Fitness, Sudoku, and Mind Games. Some are free, while others have a minimal cost. Reading also gives your mind a workout. A book stimulates the brain because it makes the reader visualize the characters and setting.
Meditation may also reduce the decline of cognitive function. Find a quiet place and turn off personal electronics, so they don’t interrupt. Tune out all the background noise in your life. Be alone with your thoughts, and you may find it easier to solve problems. Meditation can be calming, which reduces stress.
Learn a new skill or language. Didn’t we all want to be rock stars at one time or bilingual? Go ahead and sign up for guitar lessons or begin studying French, Spanish, or a more challenging language with different alphabetic symbols. Or take on a do-it-yourself project around the house.
Remember, a healthy mind and body are like ham and eggs. They go well together.