How to give your brain a mental work out

Keeping your brain active and challenged will help retain your cognitive and memory skills and lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Regular physical exercise and keeping active socially can also reduce brain shrinkage and keep your brain’s wiring connected and communicating more efficiently. Here’s a list of ways to keep your grey matter sharp and your mind ticking over:

Eat well

Watch your weight and keep your cholesterol levels low. Leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, salmon, yogurt, beans, berries…they’re all full of the minerals and nutrients that can help you stay sharp and steer clear of memory disorders.

Get off the couch and burn some calories

Exercise, especially the aerobic type, improves the flow of blood to your brain. Cycling, running, swimming - even just a brisk but regular half hour walk – will all boost your mind’s capabilities. references a 2005 Finnish study that found that keeping fit can lower the risk of Alzheimer's by upwards of 50%.

Take up a new hobby

Take up a musical instrument, learn a new language, dust off a chessboard, build a deck or learn to bake. Learn something new and practice it regularly. Anything that can challenge your brain to retain information and think differently will help fire up your brain’s nerve endings.

Go on holiday

If you live in the tropics take a trip to Tassie. If you live in the city hit the beach or go find yourself in the bush. Try to see and experience something novel and different from your norm. There’s nothing like a holiday to stimulate the mind.

Get social

Visit or call friends regularly. Join a club or an online group and you’ll enjoy some social interaction and lighten up your brain by giving it the variety it craves. The American Journal of Public Health1 cites two studies that conclude that those who spend a lot of time alone can increase their risk of dementia, so get out there.

Give your mind a mental workout

Play problem-solving computer games, do some study, regularly do the crossword or play Sudoku. Memorising facts and regularly demanding something from your mind are sure-fire ways to get your brain’s electrons moving and your brain communicating more efficiently.

Don’t smoke

The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research recently published a long-term study of 21,000 smokers. And it’s pretty grim news. Heavy smokers double their risk of dementia and those who smoke half to one pack a day have a 37 percent greater risk than those who don’t smoke. All up, it really does pay to think a little more about how you look after your health and your brain.

Change your habits and your viewpoint

Try to see the other side of the argument - you don’t have to agree with it - just train your mind to see the flip side. If you suffer from stress, consider ways to reduce the anxiety such as yoga and meditation classes. And take the cure for many of life’s ailments - get enough sleep.

1. March 1993 Vol. 83 and July 2008, Vol. 98