Tips for Staying Sharp

Keep yourself sharp with these 10 tips.

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Ryan Peltier

Want to boost your brain? Play a board game or break out a puzzle. “Games of skill—whether they be the Sunday crossword or a weekly chess match—can sharpen your ability to remember, follow rules, strategize and predict what an opponent is likely to do,” according to Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, author of Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk. “It’s strenuous brain exercise, so it makes sense that these types of activities may keep our brains healthy.”

The following tips are adapted from Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk by Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, with Alisa Bowman, A Reader’s Digest Book, copyright © 2015 by The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc., New York. Available wherever books are sold.

Dance the night away: Study after study has found that exercise ranks as the most potent Alzheimer’s protection, and researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that dance reduced the risk for dementia more than any other type of physical activity. Learning new steps boosts your intellectual fitness, while the fun of dancing helps to reduce stress. Plus, if you dance with a group or a partner, you’re building your social network.

Learn to play an instrument: Learning and playing an instrument forces you to sharpen many different cognitive processes, including attention, memory, motor skills, auditory skills, and visual skills. When researchers from Emory University tested the cognitive health of 70 older adults, they found that study participants with at least 10 years of musical experience performed better on tests of nonverbal memory, naming, and many other cognitive processes than older adults with less training or no training at all.

Talk to strangers: Research has shown that chronic loneliness reduces our performance on IQ tests and increases our risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Striking up a conversation with the checkout person at the grocery store or your seatmate on the bus is an easy way to work more brain-boosting social contact into your day.

Get a massage: When levels of the stress hormone cortisol are chronically elevated, our brain literally shrinks and levels of beta-amyloid protein (a marker of Alzheimer’s disease) rise. A good massage, concluded a review out of the University of Miami and Duke University, can help to lower levels of cortisol.

Nap strategically: Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College found that naps of all lengths enhanced cognitive performance during the day. The early afternoon seems to be the most beneficial time to nap.

Read to learn: Reading may seem like a passive activity, but it has the ability to fill your mind with knowledge. The more knowledge in your mind, the bigger your cognitive reserve. So every time you read, it’s like putting memories into an ever-expanding bank.

Become a tutor or volunteer: Volunteering can give your life meaning and buffer you from the harmful effects of stress. Volunteering as a tutor adds another component: intellectual stimulation.

Play video games: Researchers have spent years developing video games specifically for older adults, finding that certain electronic games provide a motivating way to exercise one’s attention, memory, and other cognitive skills.

Enjoy coffee in the morning: Caffeine consumed too late in the day may disturb your sleep and increase your risk for developing Alzheimer’s. But a cup of coffee in the morning can help us consolidate memories and more easily memorize new information, according to a Johns Hopkins study.