10 ways to keep your mind active

senior man learning guitar on the couch

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted October 13, 2021


Tips and tricks to train your brain and stay mentally sharp.  

Over lockdown, you’d be forgiven for not being motivated to do much aside from finding the TV remote. While many of us have become accustomed to months of languishing, both in body and brain, as we get older, this can be a symptom of a deteriorating mind.  

Dr. John N. Morris, Director of Social and Health Policy Research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research, wrote that no matter what activity you choose to ‘maximise brain training,’ it should follow three guidelines for mental benefits: 

  • Challenging – Your brain must be 'challenged' for it to grow, so it helps if the activity you focus on is new, or "increases your skill set."
  • Complex – Training your mind in a complex skill 'forces your brain to work on a specific thought processes, like problem solving and creative thinking.'
  • Practice – Like any new skill, practice makes perfect, and the more time you spend on your brain training activity 'the more it benefits.'

Whilst not foolproof, here are 10 tips, tricks and brain exercises you can utilise to train your brain into keeping mentally sharp and active.


How to keep your mind active
 

Jigsaw puzzles

Using your mind to figure out where pieces go isn’t just for kids or something to pass time in lockdown. A study on how undertaking jigsaws affects the brain and aging found that jigsaw puzzling ‘strongly engages multiple cognitive abilities and long term…experiences (that) benefit cognition.’ So next time someone thinks it’s just a silly hobby, let them know you’re actually brain training! 

Playing games (including computer and video games!)

Playing games isn’t just for kids – it is a way to stimulate your mind for a true brain workout! Games such as chess, sudoku, solitaire, puzzles and artistic endeavours that require concentration is what the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation state are a ‘simple way to keep yourself sharp.’ 

Additionally, a University of Melbourne (UoM) study found undertaking activities such as ‘action video games’ (e.g. Wii Fit) or computer games that ‘require a good amount of planning and logical thinking’ can assist to ‘train alertness, speed and navigation skills.’ 

Reading and listening to music

While you may engage in these activities already, did you know they can also increase your skills in listening and paying attention? The UoM study  found that these pleasurable pastimes ‘may enhance cognitive benefits’ – we have some great recommendations for mindful podcasts here.

Engaging with others

Communicating with others isn’t just beneficial for our mental health. The UoM study found that engaging in cognitive activities can work better when done with another person, keeping ‘brain training social.’ 

Learning new skills 

A study by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience found that engaging in tasks associated with the vocabulary, such as word searches, learning French or writing poetry, are associated with long-term and working memory, as well as communication and creative skills. 

If writing isn’t your thing, taking up a new hobby or extending your learning in an area of interest such as sewing, gardening, playing guitar or painting have been shown to improve memory function and brain connection.

Senior woman at a farmer's market

Heading to a Farmer's Market is a great way to invoke all the sense at the same time. Image: Getty. 


Eating well

As the old saying goes, you are what you eat! According to nutritionists at Healthline, incorporating foods that contribute to brain health can help give your brain a boost. A nutritious diet incorporating salmon, green tea, eggs and blueberries can help activate areas of your brain health such as memory, concentration, mood and alertness. 

Meditation, yoga and tai chi

Studies from UCLA found that those who mediate, on average, had ‘better-preserved brains’ than those who did not. This could be to do with centring thoughts on a single activity rather than letting the mind wander, which another study found keeps our brain network ‘on’ and ‘active.’ 

Additionally, activities such as tai chi, a Chinese martial art, have been found by a Harvard study to ‘improve cognitive function’ including multitasking, time management and decision making. Tai chi has also been shown to slow the progression of dementia better than other types of exercise. 

Exercise, dancing and swimming

No surprises here. Exercise has a wealth of benefits on our physical and mental well-being – but did you know many exercises also help to keep your mind sharp and active? The Victorian Better Health Channel advises that keeping physically fit, alongside a healthy diet, can assist with maintaining your brain’s functions, including memory. 

Sleep

A study cited in Forbes found that when we sleep, our brains tend to ‘save’ the connections and information we absorbed during the day, as well as weakening connections that our brain deems ‘unimportant’ (although why our brains get us to remember ad jingles from the 90s, we are still unsure!) 

Additionally, a tired mind is not a well-functioning mind, and sleep helps us perform tasks better when we are alert, such as cognition, multi-tasking and paying attention. 

Sensory activities

Studies have found that engaging all five senses – smell, touch, sight, taste and sound – can be a way to exercise and challenge your brain, keeping it active by engaging in activities that are ‘new, fun and challenging.’ Think cooking a new meal with some music on, shopping at a farmer’s market or enjoying some snacks at a show – activities that engage more than one sense at a time. 


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