As we age, it becomes increasingly important to challenge our brains in order to avoid cognitive decline. One of my grandma’s favorite ways to challenge her brain every day was with the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper. That memory got me wondering — what’s the best way to keep your brain sharp and your “thinking muscles” strong?
Computer Games vs. Crossword Puzzles
A small study was recently published looking at the effects of crossword puzzles and computer games on the cognitive function and mental health of adults. The study subjects were not your average population, however, as they already had some mild cognitive impairment. There have been other studies published that have also looked at cognitive improvements with computer games in adults with no impairments.
Being a millennial myself, I honestly was expecting computer games to have more of a positive impact on cognitive function than it does. Computer games did show some improvement for adults with no initial cognitive impairment. However, they showed a decline in function for adults with some pre-existing impairment. So back to crossword puzzles we go, I guess!
What Else Can We Do Besides A Good Crossword Puzzle For Mental Health?
There are actually plenty of other things you can do to improve your cognitive function as early as in your 30s to help with offsetting mental decline with aging.
We’ve seen the positive effects mindfulness can have on blood pressure, stress management, and chronic disease. Cognitive decline can sometimes be caused by inflammation, so this is enough of a reason to incorporate mindfulness! But mindfulness, especially meditation, can actually create new neural connections in the brain, making it stronger.
Maybe I sound like a broken record, but exercise might just be the magic pill we’re always searching for. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends regular exercise to help get fresh blood and oxygen to the brain (I agree!).
Nourish Your Body
Eating a diet high in a variety of whole and unprocessed foods can help offset chronic disease and inflammation, and support a healthy brain.
There are studies that show that getting less sleep, or impaired sleep, can increase your risk for mental decline as you age. Lack of sleep can also lead to overeating, which can also lead to inflammation in the brain.
Good communication is key to staying spry and sharp. A good therapist can help you better understand your own mental patterns that keep you unhappy or sluggish. A life of regular, dedicated talk therapy really can make all the difference for your brain.
Ultimately, reducing inflammation and challenging your brain are the most impactful ways to support cognitive function as you age. So whether it’s crossword puzzles or some of these other ways to support your brain, as long as you’re using it, you likely won’t lose it!
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