We know that exercising your body can make your muscles and heart stronger. Increasingly, research shows that exercising your mind can make your brain more powerful, too.
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One of the best ways to build mind power is to learn a new skill, a recent study found. A group of older adults who spent about 16 hours a week for three months learning to quilt or take digital photos were found to have improved long-term memory.
Building your working memory
The theory is that when you’re intently focused, you’re strengthening your working memory.
Working memory allows you to switch smoothly among several tasks simultaneously – like answering the phone and laying down your keys at the same time, then being able to remember later where you put the keys.
Learning a new skill takes focus and concentration, but other activities can strengthen your brain as well. The important thing, says neurologist Jagan Pillai, MD, PhD, is to find something that really interests you.
“It could be anything from learning a language or instrument, to making pottery or painting,” Dr. Pillai says. “But it should deeply engage you.”
Activities that make your mind strong
Other research has supported this link. In one study, older adults who played a special 3-D video game improved their working memory, while another study showed that reading, playing board games and playing musical instruments is associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
Even something like a daily dance lesson or bridge game can help to accomplish this goal.
“Any activities that improve attention or skill tend to be very useful and helpful for your brain,” Dr. Pillai says.
Talking and listening can help, too
Dr. Pillai tells his patients that even social interaction could help to exercise the brain.
“There’s no question that engagement in any kind of learning task, whether a person is completely engaged in a new or previous activity, can help,” Dr. Pillai says. “There’s no downside to that.”
Dr. Pillai also recommends eating a healthy diet and working out regularly because both play a role in having a healthy brain.