Healthy Living

Sharpen your mind with a new skill

We’d all like to stay sharp. This is especially true as we age and everything from remembering names to regaining our footing after a stumble seems to take longer.

Generally, games and puzzles can help boost brainpower and keep memory from fading.

But research also suggests that learning an entirely new skill works even better, particularly for older adults. The more cognitively demanding the activity, the better. In other words, the more you have to marshal mental resources and challenge yourself, the more you stimulate brain cells and connections in your noggin.

Quilting and digital photography were memory-sharpening hobbies that participants adopted in a recent study. But the list of new things you can take on is limitless, of course.

Another really good way to stay sharp – no surprise here – is exercise. And it can be moderate exercise along the lines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. That includes physical activity as simple as walking. Regular and sustained exercise is believed to increase the volume of the brain, medical experts say.

Try it

One good way to combine mental and physical challenges is by jumping rope. As a bonus, you hone your balance and coordination when you do it.

“When you jump rope, the body has to connect with the mind to make neural and muscular adjustments to keep you balanced,” says Christine Hagemeyer, an exercise specialist with Unum. “Essentially, jumping rope improves your balance and coordination by making your mind focus on your feet for sustained periods of time, even if you’re not conscious of it.”

Step it Up

If you already jump rope, then try variations: crossing the rope, hopping on one leg, doing kicks. Whatever feels novel and – you guessed it – difficult (at least a little).

If this all sounds exhausting, then take heart. Studies also have shown that you can keep your mind from slipping away by sleeping enough, bonding with others and keeping saturated and trans fat to a minimum. Not smoking and not having more than one alcoholic drink each day helps too – but you already knew that was good for you in lots of other ways.

 

Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She was a senior editor for Yoga Journal  and still does research for the magazine on wellness, fitness and nutrition. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.

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