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7 Ways to Keep Your Mind Young and Lively

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7 Ways to Keep Your Mind Young and Lively

Thanks to brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, your brain can change, adapt and grow new cells, even as you age. "Structural plasticity" refers to the brain's ability to alter its physical structure as a result of learning and experience, which can help keep your mind sharp and flexible as you get older.

In a 2014 study, researchers compared memory test results from older adults that learned a variety of new skills, ranging from digital photography to quilting, with those from control groups that engaged in activities that were fun but not mentally challenging, such as listening to the radio and watching movies. Only those participants who had learned a new skill showed improvement on the memory tests, and these memory improvements were still present when the researchers tested participants a year later.

The following seven activities are fun and mentally challenging and can have significant long-term effects on the health and vitality of your brain. Add one or two to your activities calendar to benefit from the brain-sharpening potential.

1. Try Out New Recipes

Cooking for cognition might be a new concept for some seniors. But those who love to put their culinary skills into action are stimulating their brains with the type of workout it needs to stay cognitively healthy.

When you're researching new recipes in books or online, planning your meal and making a shopping list, you're utilizing your brain's executive functions to organize and multitask. Consider doubling the cognition-boosting benefits of creative cooking by focusing on brain-healthy recipes

2. Read an Absorbing Novel

Is reading fiction for cognition more your style? When you become engrossed in a novel and use your imagination to put yourself in a character's shoes, you're enhancing connectivity in your brain and improving brain function.

A skilled author who creates a strong narrative can transport you into a fantasy world that becomes a reality in your mind. You can introduce even more novelty into this brain exercise by choosing a book in a genre you typically don't go for, such as opting for a Western work instead of your usual crime thriller. Consider forming a book club with your assisted living community neighbors for even more fun and stimulation.

3. Learn a New Language

A great way to create and strengthen neural pathways and networks in your brain is by learning to speak a foreign language. If you regret not getting past second-year French in college, it's never too late to pick it up again.

Not only does this stretch your mind, but you'll also be continually learning something new while becoming a more accomplished multilingual conversationalist. This may be just the incentive you need to plan that once-in-a-lifetime adventure that transports you from Kansas City, Missouri, to Europe.

4. Take up a Musical Instrument

If you'd like to be more mentally alert, playing a musical instrument is a rich and complex experience that can result in long-lasting changes in the brain. This is because it uses multiple senses to integrate information: vision, hearing and touch.

Other benefits older adults can receive from musical training include:

  • Strengthens the brain's executive function, which includes critical tasks such as decision-making, problem-solving, and processing and retaining information.
  • Helps the brain recover after a stroke, promoting improved motor control while performing everyday activities.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and depression.

5. Cultivate a New Hobby

A pleasant way to help your brain form new neural connections is by pursuing a passion you didn't have time to explore more fully when you were younger. Maybe now's your chance to go for that Master Gardener title you've always coveted or to dive deeply into the fascinating world of aromatherapy.

Even something as seemingly simple as coloring can lower stress, encourage creative self-expression and promote mindfulness. There's a wide range of coloring books designed for adults to choose from.

6. Enroll in an Online Course

There has never been a better time to take advantage of free online courses from the world's most prestigious educational institutions. Get cognitively stronger while learning something you've always wanted to study in one of the thousands of virtual courses available, many of which are self-paced.

7. Volunteer in Your Local Community

Helping others engages your mind, body, heart and soul, and it can help reduce the risk of age-related diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, in older adults. A 12-year study conducted at the University of Michigan using more than 64,000 subjects aged 60 and older found that seniors who did just two hours a week of volunteer work scored about 6% higher in cognitive testing than the non-volunteers.

At The Gardens at Barry Road, we believe that reaching out to our local Kansas City community is one of the greatest responsibilities and joys that we have as Christians. Residents of our senior living community participate in several fulfilling ways, sharing their lifetime of knowledge and experience to make a difference in the community.

Some of the most popular ways our residents contribute to the Kansas City community include:

  • Sewing for local churches and community theaters
  • Woodworking projects to benefit veterans, low-income seniors or Habitat for Humanity
  • Charity drives that provide food for pantries or clothing for those in need around Kansas City
  • Participating in greeting card ministries and prayer lists to lift the spirits of people who may feel alone

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