As we get older, our bodies naturally decline. We lose muscle, energy and more. Our brains can atrophy, too. The hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for building memory, loses 5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing decade. Plus, aging slows production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to learning and memory. That can make performing mental tasks more difficult.
Just as you need to work out your muscles to maintain them, your brain also needs exercise. Scientists now believe that performing regular, targeted brain exercises can also increase your brain’s cognitive reserve for later on. We’ve compiled six brain exercises that can help sharpen both your long- and short-term memory.
- Cooking – learning how to cook a new cuisine, or following an unfamiliar recipe can increase brainpower. Cooking relies on your sense of smell, touch, sight and taste, which all involve different parts of the brain. It’s like a total brain workout! Want to stretch your brain even further? While eating, try to identify the different ingredients and flavors, as you taste them.
- Sudoku – this number game requires you to keep a series of numbers in your head while mentally “rehearsing” their placement in the nine-space grids. It stretches your working memory. Remember, as with any brain exercise, once your brain is used to the patterns or organizing of numbers and it’s “easy,” it’s time to find something new.
- Basic Math – when computing a tip or solving an equation, before you pull out the calculator on your smart phone, try to solve the problem in your head, first. Stretch your brain to recall strategies and methods from your youth – you’ll feel accomplished and might even surprise yourself with what you can do!
- Brain Yoga – With your left hand, make a fist and extend your thumb. Do the same with your right hand, but extend your pinky. Now switch them so you’re using your left pinky and right thumb. This exercise is similar to patting your head while rubbing your tummy. The coordination involved will strengthen neural connections, helping to improve memory and cognition.
- Forget Your Shopping List – If you’re headed to the grocery store for a few items, don’t make a list. It sounds daunting, but with some practice you can do it. Use a game to help you remember. If you need milk, eggs and orange juice, assign a rhyming word with a number. For example, “one” might be “run.” Now imagine yourself running with a glass of milk and it spilling everywhere. When you get to the store and are trying to remember the first item on your list, you’ll think of one, then run and the image of you running with a glass of milk will pop into your head and you’ll remember that milk was the first item on your list.
- Test Your Recall – when you get home from a new place, sit down and see if you can draw a map directing you back. Did you make a list for a big trip to the grocery store? Before leaving, hide the list and see how many items you can remember. Have you had several phone numbers in your lifetime? See how many you can remember. Can you still recall your best childhood friend’s number or address? These may sound silly, but any little ways in which you can test your recall will wake up those parts of your brain and get you thinking.