Prioritizing Healthy Brain Function
Mental decline is NOT something that I—or likely anyone—wants to experience. The more heartbreaking stories I hear about loved ones with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, the more determined I am to do all that I can to stay mentally active. Even if it requires doing things I don’t particularly enjoy.
Like reading, for example. I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else, but I’ve learned that my mind isn’t as sharp when I’m not actively reading. Since committing to finishing a couple books a year, my memory has greatly improved, and I’ve been able to better (and more quickly) express my thoughts and ideas.
Similarly, I used to be TERRIBLE at puzzles. Probably because my spatial intelligence is close to zero :-0. But consistently doing puzzles has significantly improved my visual-spatial reasoning... AND I can work on them while watching TV. They are now one of my favorite things to do!
How to Keep Your Mind Sharp
There is no shortage of cognitive activities that help keep our brains active. I would suggest picking a couple to incorporate into your day or week (maybe in place of social media scrolling or watching Netflix 😉) and/or trying some new ones to further expand your mind. Many people use apps, play games, and/or complete word puzzles. You can also take classes, learn a new skill, listen to music, or practice your artistic creativity. And don’t forget that eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep also promote mental health.
I wish my primary motivation to read and continue learning was for a greater good, but it’s more for fearful reasons—and I’m okay with that. Activities that focus on problem solving, strategy or memorization help sharpen my mind, and will hopefully prevent or delay mind-altering, awful diseases. How do you currently keep your mind active, or what would you like to try?
Additional Thoughts and Recommendations
Puzzles: As I began with the intention of doing puzzles by myself, they have unexpectedly been a great way to socialize and connect with others. I especially enjoy them on holidays and vacations—even if my 7-year-old nephew has now surpassed my abilities 😉. I always try to find 500- and 750- piece puzzles for when I’m doing them on my own, so I'm challenged but not frustrated.
Books: I am extremely picky with the books I read (see first section), and have no problem ditching a book if I’m not thoroughly entertained or learning something fascinating. If you’re looking for something new to read, here is what I would recommend: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (comedy), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (drama), The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (spiritual), The Girl with 7 Names by David John and Lee Hyeon-seo (historical), Influencer by Kerry Patterson (business), Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (sports), Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (historical), and Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (non-fiction).
Documentaries: In honor of Black History month, I’d like to add that watching movies or documentaries about different cultures and historical events is a great way keep our minds active, while also developing empathy and broadening our perspective. The (educational and impactful) films that you might want to consider watching are: “Just Mercy,” “Marshall,” “Freedom Writers,” “Selma,” and “13th.”