3 Tips to Boost Mental Agility

Inevitably, as we age, the brain’s ability to process information becomes slower than it used to be.

The good news is intellectually stimulating activities, exercise and a nutritious diet can keep your brain sharp and improve its functioning.  

With frequent use, our brains, just like our muscles, become stronger, says Dr. Jerry Bauer of the Neurosciences Institute at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

To maintain active and strong nerve connections in the brain and improve how they communicate with each other, Dr. Bauer suggests:

  • Arithmetic problems
  • Card games
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Reading
  • Socializing with friends
  • He reminds everyone to avoid:
  • Inactive activities, like watching television
  • Overindulging in alcohol (it causes brain damage)
  • Stress (it’s a risk factor for premature dementia)

Learning something new, like a foreign language or how to play an instrument, can increase brain functioning, says Dr. Chad Yucus of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Glenview. Add to that a low-cholesterol diet (consisting of more fish than red meat, lots of fruits and vegetables) and walking 30 minutes a day, and you have a prescription for mental agility.

Change your routine

“Doing things by rote doesn’t help your brain,” says Barbara Appelbaum, author of “Live in Wellness Now” (Love Your Life Publishing, 2013). “When you’re going somewhere you go all the time, drive a different way.”

She also recommends:

  • Alternating balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth
  • Dancing
  • Having an attitude of gratitude (it reduces stress)
  • Playing games on apps, such as Lumosity
  • Sleeping eight hours a night (it helps you handle stress better)
  • Wearing a bracelet with a timer that reminds you to move, like the Nike+ FuelBand or Jawbone UP

In aging populations, Dr. Donalee Markus has noticed that the voice inside the brain that reminds you to “filter yourself,” turns off.  Dr. Markus, founder of Designs for Strong Minds in Highland Park, developed the Strong Mind Puzzles app for the iPhone and iPad with games that help seniors train their brains to think before they talk.

To boost memory, she advises practicing Mindful Meditation.

For inspiration, Appelbaum says, watch “23 ½ Hours” (Mercury Films, Inc., 2011) on YouTube. In it, Dr. Mike Evans demonstrates how walking 30 minutes a day will prolong your life. The message is don’t stop moving. Get up and stay healthy.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” George Bernard Shaw