Use it or Lose it: Mental Activity Prevents Disease, Improves Well-Being
From improving circulation to preventing heart disease, physical exercise has obvious benefits. On the other hand, mental exercise is often neglected, but equally important to your health. Keeping your brain active can stave off mental atrophy and disease. In fact, studies have shown that regularly performing intellectually stimulating activities produces a profound decrease in risk for developing mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
You might wonder how an active brain combats mental disease and decay. According to the National Institute on Aging, intellectually stimulating activities and social engagement may help establish the brain’s ability to work effectively under damage or stress. They may also help the brain become more adaptable, which could possibly make up for an aging brain’s decline. Moreover, according to an animal study, physical and mental stimulation “decrease hallmark Alzheimer's pathologies and support new nerve cell growth and better cell-to-cell communication.”
Memory loss and decline in mental functioning are inevitable consequences of aging. That is why, as you age, the importance of flexing your mental muscles increases exponentially. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, keeping your brain active increases its vitality. It’s not only possible to retain your mental fitness, you can even take steps to improve it. Therefore, it’s never too late to start engaging in activities that support mental health.
Such activities include:
∞ Solving a puzzle
∞ Playing logic games
∞ Trying new foods
Reading, even reading this article, is good for your health. When reading, your brain works to recall the meaning of the words in the text and works instantly to create a larger understanding of the text. Fiction is marvelous for utilizing your imagination, as visualization activates multiple parts of your mind. Non-fiction reading has its benefits, too, since using your brain to process language stimulates brain cells and encourages their growth.
Relaxation and self-affirmations, in which you say positive things to yourself, have both been shown to strengthen neural connections and improve brain health. In addition, optimism and self-confidence help foster mental well-being. Meditation encourages both relaxation and concentration. Setting small goals, relaxing and affirming yourself may help keep your brain sharp. Setting some time aside for yourself, whether it be skimming the newspaper or meditating peacefully, is as important as strengthening your mind with logic puzzles and memory games.
Rest and relaxation aren’t the only activities that help maintain a healthier brain. More active mental tasks, such as learning a new skill or language, can help keep your brain elastic. New activities mean new neural connections and passageways, which means a stronger and healthier mind. Brushing up on your French or learning to sew can reap incredible benefits for your brain, such as an increased chance of retaining and even expanding your capacity for memory.
Physical exercise can also help mental health. A healthy body has a healthy effect on the mind. Vigorous exercise can help battle depression and physical pain, which can weigh heavy on your heart, and cause mental strife. Exercise can also promote blood flow, which provides more oxygen to brain cells. A physically demanding but calm hobby, like gardening, can greatly reduce your stress and improve your concentration.
Being mindful of the nutrients you put into your body can pay mental dividends. A healthy diet is linked to good mental health. A heart-healthy diet can help blood circulation, in turn helping your brain receive the oxygen it needs.
Improved cognition has also been associated with social engagement. That is, frequent social interaction has been shown to increase mental acuity. Everyday social activities, such as going to the theater or meeting friends for dinner, can have a beneficial effect on your brain.
Even simply trying new things can help improve your cognitive functioning. New experiences stimulate the brain and can serve as a wonderful workout for your mind. Changing your route to the gas station, exploring a new park or even trying a new dessert can help keep your brain healthy.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease wreak havoc on the sufferer’s life and the lives of their loved ones. Any chance to reduce your risk for these diseases should be adopted. Simple additions to your day, such as reading leisurely, learning a new language, meeting with friends or simply completing a crossword puzzle could help reduce your risk of developing these diseases.
Keeping your brain active today can help keep your brain functioning tomorrow. An active mind is stronger, healthier and more resistant to decline than an inactive one. Making your brain active is as easy as engaging with your environment, staying curious and learning actively every day. Because if you don’t use it, you will most certainly lose it.