When people think of keeping fit, they generally think of taking care of their body and physical health. That’s all well and good, but don’t forget that mental health plays a key role in almost everything you do: think, feel, remember, work, have fun, and interact.
What happens when you don’t challenge your brain?
Can the mind be trained? Of course. The mind can be kept active, it can be trained, and it can develop to become more and more lucid and connected.
There are many reasons to keep the brain active throughout life. Keeping your brain active and maintaining creativity serves as a prevention for the decline in mental performance and memory problems that can plague you over the years.
The more you use and work with your brain, the more benefits you can get.
It’s known that what is not used, atrophies. This happens with the body, but also with the mind and with intellectual capacities such as memory, reasoning, concentration, etc.
Intellectual training is beneficial and essential to keep the mind agile. And an agile mind is essential when facing daily tasks throughout life.
There are many things you can do to keep your mind active as the years go by. We will see some of the recommendations that specialists make.
Why is important to keep the mind active?
Physical health is not the only one we must take care of to enjoy a good quality of life. Our brain must also exercise, especially in adulthood, to stay fit and prevent brain deterioration associated with aging. On World Alzheimer’s Day, we invite you to discover all the benefits of exercising your brain.
Life expectancy is gradually rising and the elderly population sector is increasing. We all want to live many years, but with the best possible quality of life.
And just as we exercise our body to keep it in shape, more and more people are concerned about maintaining mental activity to prevent cognitive decline associated with aging and responsible for neurodegenerative diseases such as senile dementia or Alzheimer’s.
From about 25 years of age, we begin to lose brain volume naturally: gray matter deteriorates and shrinks, the microstructure of neurons and the connections of the cerebral cortex change. This causes the progressive loss of functions, such as our ability to reason, mental speed or episodic memory, very slowly at first and more acutely as the years go by, starting at 50.
Symptoms such as difficulty in remembering recent events or names of objects, people or places are some of the most common, although there is no need to be alarmed as it’s a common and benign process called “age-related memory loss”.
For this reason, although at any age exercising the brain helps to develop our intelligence, improve our concentration and our attention span, it’s especially important to keep it active in adulthood.
What benefits does exercising the brain bring to the elderly?
Thanks to mental activity, the brain of an elderly person can be a fit brain. Contrary to what was traditionally thought, continued brain stimulation has been shown to promote the development of new neural interconnections, making it possible to compensate for natural deterioration due to age.
Reduces the risk of cognitive decline
Exercising the brain, along with healthy lifestyle habits, reduces the risk of cognitive decline:
Helps maintain memory
The risk of dementia can be reduced by up to 63%
An increase of just 5% in cognitive reserve can prevent a third of Alzheimer’s cases. And with brain training, although the brain damage caused is not stopped, the negative effects of this disease can be delayed.
They improve skills in everyday life functions
Older people who undergo brain training are able to maintain skills such as cooking, managing finances or the proper use of their medications over the years.
The positive effects last up to 10 years
The latest studies have revealed that the positive effects of brain training can be maintained even up to 10 years after you have done it.
Keep your mind active: tips to preserve memory
Mental activity is necessary not only to avoid boredom, but also to stimulate abilities and avoid age-related memory loss.
Here are some tips to keep your mind active and, incidentally, feel more aware of what is going on around you, focused and sharp.
1. Practice sports and physical activities
Aerobic physical exercise, which involves breathing, benefits brain capacities. Above all, it improves those based on the interaction between the frontal lobe and the medial temporal lobe. Influences working memory and executive functions. The benefit of sport on cognition has a physiological explanation, and that is that it favors the production of neurotrophic agents.
Neurotrophic substances cause synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis and vascularization of the brain to increase. It reduces the loss of brain volume in old age, especially in the hippocampus, involved in memory and learning. For exercise to be beneficial, it’s important that it be done regularly, for about thirty minutes a day.
Cardiovascular exercises can be adapted to the capacities of each one. If it’s a person who has never exercised, you can start by walking at a good pace or playing fun sports such as paddle tennis or swimming.
2. Train working memory
Exercising working memory is very useful when it comes to stimulating our cognitive abilities. There are a large number of exercises for this purpose. One of the tasks designed for this purpose is the n-back.
This task consists of observing a screen in which a figure appears and disappears, later it appears again. We must answer the question of whether it has appeared in the same place as the previous time.
Each time the difficulty of the task can be increased by asking, for example, if he makes three presentations, the figure was in the same place. Forces recent information to be retained for a period of time and then compared to current information.
What is interesting about this task is that evidence has been found of the transfer of its performance to other skills such as reasoning fluency.
Any task that requires the retention for a time of auditory or visual information to use it, is exercising working memory and is a form of mental training. For example, listen to a series of numbers, and repeat it in the reverse order.
Normally, it should start with a medium execution level to adapt it to our capacity. It’s important to find the balance between being demanding but possible to do so so as not to get frustrated.
3. Get out of the comfort zone
It consists of not accommodating, if we do not do new things that pose a challenge, we do not exercise the mind. Finding intellectually challenging hobbies like learning to play an instrument is also mental training.
For example, if we enjoy watching series, we would start by watching them in their original version with Spanish subtitles. Once we follow it smoothly, we put English subtitles on, until we are able to do without them.
Ultimately, it’s about continuing to learn throughout life. We all assume that children are doing them on a daily basis, because it’s their age. Children also have an easier time learning and neuroplasticity is at its peak. But as has been seen lately, it’s never too late to learn.
It’s logical that the activities carried out must be adapted to the capacities and age, and of course they must be activities that we like.
Motivation is crucial so that we do not abandon the activity. Sudokus, word searches or group hobbies, which can be even more beneficial, like playing chess. Social relationships also have a positive impact on a cognitive level.
It’s one of the most effective, low-cost, and high-benefit forms of mental training. It’s not necessary to use technology or obtain any high cost tool, in addition, we can do it anywhere, and it’s a pleasant activity. The sooner we start with the habit of reading, the better, that is why it’s important to instil it in the little ones since they learn to read with stories and short stories.
Reading involves many mental processes such as perception, memory, and reasoning. When we read we decode visual stimuli (letters, words, phrases) turning them into mental sounds to give them meaning. This action activates large areas of the cerebral cortex, which makes it a great stimulator of the mind.
5. Enhance creativity
To improve our cognitive abilities, we must not only perform mental training through calculation exercises, mental flexibility, memory … exercises that focus on giving free rein to our creativity also help.
Performing this type of activity helps to induce greater mental flexibility and originality, being associated with the activation of specific neural networks. Creativity has also been found to positively influence resilience and thus cope with the losses and changes that inevitably accompany adulthood.
6. Learn languages
Language is one of the more complex higher functions that involve more areas of the cerebral cortex. Innately, humans have the ability to learn languages, especially in childhood, as the brain is more plastic than ever. However, we can learn languages throughout life. Learning a new language is a good form of mental training.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of bilingualism, finding that it produces better selective attention and the habit of switching mental content is more developed.
Learning two languages from the moment you learn to speak and using them in the family, social and educational environment is the most beneficial. When they are learned after infancy, the second language will be subordinate to the first.
Cognitive stimulation and maintaining an active lifestyle can prevent neurodegenerative diseases or compensate for neurological injuries since it increases our cognitive reserve and compensatory mechanisms of damage are activated. Not only is it important to do mental training exercises in old age, but it’s important to do it throughout the life cycle.
Escaping the routine, being an active person, eager to learn and discover things can help you get the most out of your mind. Imposing yourself intellectual challenges, getting out of the monotony and sedentary lifestyle are the most effective forms of mental training.
It’s not only about doing math or memory exercises but about changing habits.
In research on cognitive reserve, the main factors that influence the plasticity of the brain are the work carried out throughout life, the reading habit, the years of education and the social network that one has. So the brain is shaped from our first year of life until we die, which constitutes a window of opportunity to consciously intervene in its process architecture at any time.
FAQS: What happens when you don’t challenge your brain?
What happens when you challenge your brain?
When you challenge your brain, your memory improves and over time you create more gray matter, creating more neural connections and preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
How do you challenge your brain?
Start with mini-challenges for your brain:
Brush your teeth with the hand you don’t usually use.
Take a different route to work or the store.
Eat a bite or two of dinner with your eyes closed.
Listen to a new kind of music.
Do 60 seconds of jumping jacks (or any physical activity).
How can I challenge my brain everyday?
Use your senses.
Learn a new skill.
Listen to music.
Do brain games really make you smarter?
Yes, games increase cognitive abilities.
How do I train my body to accept big challenge?
Start soft, don’t overload your brain. Mainly, start changing habits, introduce new habits. Play, memorize, exercise and your body will be ready for a great challenge.
Alloway, T., & Alloway, R. (2014). The working memory advantage: Train your brain to function stronger, smarter, faster. Simon and Schuster.
Stern, Y. (2009). Cognitive reserve. Neuropsychologia, 47(10), 2015-2028.
Winningham, R. G. (2018). Train Your brain: How to maximize memory ability in older adulthood. Routledge.