One of the most popular methods for getting brain cells working is to solve puzzles or riddles, which force you to think in unusual or creative ways. Puzzles and riddles help exercise your mind because they involve a host of mental tasks, including mathematics, logical reasoning, pattern recognition, and nonlinear thinking.
While puzzles and games are obvious choices for keeping memory sharp, it also helps to expose yourself to new and interesting environments. Research with animals has clearly shown that novel, stimulating environments can stop the brain from shrinking with age and actually improve brain-cell connections and boost memory skills. Get out and see new places, do new things, take up a new sport, or start a hobby. Visit museums or places of interest in your town you've never taken the time to explore before.
If you stay active, interested in life, and engaged in the world around you, your memory doesn't have to deteriorate as you grow older. Even if you can't get out much, try to ensure that your home environment and daily life are stimulating and enriched, with lots of colors, sounds, smells, and things to do. Here are some ideas:
- Make sure you have music playing for at least a little while every day; while any music is good, research has found that classical music is especially stimulating to the intellect.
- Keep lots of books on hand, and make time to read them. If you can't block out specific reading times, keep a paperback in your purse or briefcase so you can squeeze in some reading while you're riding a train or bus or waiting for an appointment.
- Add a fish tank to your home or office with lots of colorful fish and interesting tank toys.
- Paint the walls of your home interesting, unusual colors or add some wallpaper. Select interesting art, knickknacks, rugs, and curtains. Try to include a variety of textures with things like pillows, blankets, and furniture fabrics.
- If you have the space, put a birdhouse and a bird feeder or birdbath outside your window, and keep a pair of binoculars handy. Add some brightly colored flowers to your yard or place planters or window boxes outside your windows.
- Don't forget the flowers indoors, too; the colors and smells will be an added sensory boost.
- Set out a jigsaw puzzle or chessboard and regularly engage visitors in a game.
- Plug in a computer and use it to surf the Internet or play a challenging game; computer games can improve memory in such fun ways you'll hardly notice the effort.
- Try cooking food from a different culture, or visit restaurants with cuisines that are not usually on your menu.
- Include others in your life. Some research indicates that strong social connections can help stave off depression and Alzheimer's disease and keep you alert and interested in life. Make an effort to spend time with other people, especially if you do not have relatives or close friends nearby. Join a book club, a bowling league, or a study group at your place of worship or check into local volunteer activities that can bring you in touch with a variety of new people. Write letters or make phone calls to distant relatives and long-lost friends or try going online and finding out about people from all over the world through e-mail, message boards, discussion groups, and chat rooms.
Remember, anything that engages the senses will help to stimulate your mind and strengthen your memory. So touch, feel, smell, and experience new things as often as you can.
Visualization is another good exercise for your brain. As you sit in your car in a traffic jam, wait for a doctor's appointment, or lie in bed before you fall asleep, try to visualize something from your childhood: your bedroom in the house where you grew up, your first-grade classroom, the inside of your parents' car when you were a teenager. Visualization helps stimulate the mind and can also serve as a relaxation tool by distracting you from worries and stresses.
It is possible, however, to actually get better at remembering those things you tend to forget. On the next page, get tips on how to actually improve your memory.
To learn more about the various aspects of memory, see: