Just like physical exercise benefits strength, mobility and prevention of disease, exercising your brain works similarly. The ability of the brain to resist neurological decline or damage that results from age or disease without showing signs of it is related to cognitive reserve. The cognitive reserve can benefit from both physical and mental exercises. It is believed that regular, targeted brain activities can help to increase the ability of the brain to resist decline helping to stay strong and independent. This blog will discuss the research behind brain exercises and examples of exercises at any age as well as exercise to do in later stages of dementia.
Research: Do brain exercises work?
Research has shown that cognitive training, activities that challenge the brain such as puzzles and crosswords, can help aspects of thinking and memory. The research is fairly new therefore, a direct link has not been proven yet of the ability of brain exercises to prevent dementia. Evidence has shown that brain exercises can help older people manage their daily tasks.
Much of the research focuses on the idea of ‘use it or lose it,’ meaning that the more you regularly challenge your brain the less likely it will be affected by cognitive impairment or dementia. The results of many observational studies have shown that those who do cognitive stimulation activities, such as puzzles, crosswords, new hobbies or have complex jobs, have a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Additionally, a large study was conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society which involved 7,000 people over the age of 50. It found that the brain exercises participants used improved their reasoning and ability to remember words after 6 months. Furthermore, the more frequent a participant completed an exercise the more likely they were to have an improvement in brain function.
The best exercises for brain health
There is a wide range of brain exercises that can be done. The best ones should be reasonably complex, involve new learnings, have variety and be interesting. To receive the benefits, these activities should be completed frequently.
Some brain activities that can become part of a mentally active lifestyle include:
Listening to the radio
Taking a course
Playing musical instruments
Learning a new language
Additionally, there are commercially available activities and games online:
It is suggested to reach the greatest benefit by combining mental, social and physical components into brain exercises to help reduce risk the of dementia and maintain high cognitive function.
Those that are in the early stages of dementia can benefit from a range of activities, like the ones above. As dementia progresses it might be beneficial to move to simpler exercises. Those could include:
Storytelling and/or role-playing
Playing a musical instrument
Listening to music
It is important that when dementia progresses the individual does not lose out on what they enjoy. Though the original activity may become too difficult for them the activity can be modified to meet their ability. This will allow the individual to still receive the emotional and mental benefits while also reducing frustrations by making modifications to meet their capabilities.
Incorporating activities that stimulate the mind is important for anyone. It is ideal to develop a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle when younger to help prevent the development of diseases or decline in cognitive ability. As we age and possibly retire from work it is important to complete these brain exercises regularly to help keep the mind in shape.