Brain Power: 12 Fun Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Physical Exercise

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While scientists have yet to determine how to fully prevent Alzheimer’s disease, they have done some research that demonstrates that keeping our brains active throughout our lives can delay symptoms. Some research has even shown a delay in symptoms of up to five years. If you could delay Alzheimer’s and have those extra years to enjoy your family and friends, wouldn’t you want that? So, get ready to stretch your mind and try the following 12 activities, starting with physical exercise.

Several studies have shown the cognitive benefits of physical exercise. Scientists have often linked a healthy body with a healthy mind. Stretch out before beginning your routine, and make sure your doctor has approved your exercise regimen, whether it consists of a walk three times a week, an exercise DVD, Wii Fit, or a class at your local Y.

    Learn Another Language

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    Research has demonstrated a significant delay in Alzheimer’s symptoms in individuals who are bilingual. It’s not yet understood how or why this occurs. One possible explanation is that somehow the brains of bilinguals are able to compensate for the deficits caused by Alzheimer’s, causing these individuals to function as if their brains had less damage than they actually do. Although some of the research tested those who spoke another language most or all of their lives, it’s never too late to learn a new language. You can take a community education class, go to your local library or find resources online for new language learners.  

      Play a Musical Instrument

      Man playing saxophone
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      Do you play an instrument or have you always wanted to learn? For years, research has indicated that music uses a different section of the brain than speaking or writing. For example, individuals who have experienced a stroke and have difficulty speaking have been known to sing complete songs.

      Although using different parts of your brain doesn't guarantee protection against Alzheimer’s or other dementias, research has shown that people with dementia tend to respond well to music. And, at the very least, music is an enjoyable way to spend time.


        Woman Memorizing Verses/ Kondoros Éva Katalin/E+/Getty Images.

        Do you have a favorite book, poem, or proverb? Set a goal to memorize a couple of verses or phrases a week. Choose something that will be helpful to have stuck in your mind. For example, someone I know chose to memorize some favorite verses. She felt that in addition to exercising her brain, those words would also encourage her throughout the day.  

          Play Games

          Intergenerational Family Playing Cards Together/ JGI/Blend Images/Getty Images.

          Try strategy games. You can play with others in person or online by yourself. Fun games include Scrabble, euchre, chess, bridge, and more elaborate games like Agricola and Cities & Knights. Games that require more strategy, as opposed to the luck of the draw, may be more effective in challenging your brain. 

            Read a Book

            Books, Books and More Books/ Gulfiya Mukhamatdinova/Moment / Getty Images.

            Books are everywhere. Now that there’s so much available online, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home. If you enjoy reading, try something that’s a bit different from your typical genre. For example, if you enjoy romance books, try reading a book about gardening or a how-to article on financial planning. You can also consider joining a book club if you need encouragement and accountability to continue reading.

              Do Puzzles

              Crossword Puzzle & Coffee to Start the Day/ Peter Carroll/First Light/Getty Images.

              Crosswords, Sudoku, and jumble puzzles are all ways to keep your brain active. Think of it as your daily walk around the block for your brain. 


                Couple Traveling/ Grady Reese/Vetta/Getty Images.

                If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing something in person could be priceless. New experiences and unfamiliar situations can be a good workout for your mind. While I'm not aware of any specific studies directly connecting traveling with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, traveling might be helpful for reducing your stress level, which has been connected with dementia risk.

                A word of caution, however: Ensure that you’re in good physical and mental health before embarking on your adventure.

                  Calculate Math Problems

                  Balancing the Checkbook/ Shannon Long/E+/Getty Images.

                  Rather than use your calculator or an online program to balance your checkbook, do it the old-fashioned way. Brushing up on your math skills can be part of your weekly routine, and it won’t take much time. Have grandchildren or know others who are learning their math facts? Spending a little time helping them learn multiplication could benefit both of you.

                  Take a Class

                  Woman Taking a Computer Class/ Robert Nicholas/ OJO Images/ Getty Images.

                  Have you always been interested in painting? Take an art class. Is fixing things your gift? Develop a new skill through a community class. Maybe you’d like to get an advanced degree. There’s no age limit on schooling, so give it a try. You can also use these six strategies to help you remember what you're learning


                  People Socializing Outdoors/ Purestock/Getty Images.

                  Spend time with others, talk, discuss the latest political news, sports, or family happenings, and laugh together. If you think of the brain as a muscle, it needs to be used and used in many different ways. Laughter is beneficial for the mind, body, and the heart. 


                    Man Volunteering/ Hero Images/Getty Images.

                    Volunteering can combine several of these strategies. For example, you could tutor a student at the local elementary school on a weekly basis. This could involve socialization, reading, or math skills and perhaps even games or a new language. Or you can use your skills at the local community development organization. Volunteering is one way to share the gifts you've been given, and it's beneficial to you at the same time.


                      Alzheimer's Association. Stay Mentally Active. Accessed December 16, 2011.

                      The Franklin Institute. Mental Exercise for a Better Brain. Accessed November 22, 2011.

                      National Institute of Health. Exercise and the brain: Something to chew on. Accessed December 16, 2011.

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