Exercise your brain!

Tracey Columns

What are you doing for your brain health?

I have to admit that pondering this topic makes me want to crawl under a rock. One more thing I have to do to keep healthy? Maybe it’s this wet, gray, winter day but it sounds exhausting … until I consider exactly how important it to keep my brain engaged, challenged and exercised.

For me, the secret is to approach brain health through activities I enjoy, like cooking. But after 54 years preparing meals (I started cooking for my brother and myself when I was 12) I can feel pretty burned out around meal prep. And while I am the first one to admit we’ve been known  to have pancakes for dinner, I’ve discovered that new recipes and ingredients help me prepare nutritious and balanced meals while eliminating the boredom of being in the kitchen one more time.

There’s also the very practical matter of keeping our precious gray matter safe from injury. (I’m always aghast when we’re riding our bikes and I see someone cycling without a helmet. Yikes!) But what we older folks often fail to keep in mind is that one fall and the resulting brain injury could be catastrophic or even fatal. Be honest … are you a fall risk? If so, there are simple exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. Minor changes to your yard and home can also minimize your risk of falling.

Regular physical exercise also stimulates the brain. Get moving! While I belong to a gym, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of machines. I do much better in a group class.  So find an activity that works for you. However, depending on where you live and the weather, this can be downright impossible. The gym offers me a helpful alternative. Check out the Silver Sneakers program that covers many gym memberships. It is often included in Medicare Advantage plans. For me, the best exercise of all is when I can be out in nature! 

It’s also important to stimulate our brains through different activities, like reading, Sudoku, card games, or crosswords. But you’ll truly ramp up the benefits if you branch out from what you usually do. Try learning a new language or building a simple piece of some furniture. Experiment with anything that is less routine for you. Learn a new word or fact daily or try a mastering new skill set or subject annually to keep your brain engaged and healthy.

We can also hit the books — education is a sure fire way to give your brain a full workout. There are so many different educational opportunities available these days: adult education programs, community and four year learning institutions that often offer  Over Sixty and OLLI programs. There are also free, online college courses offered by some of the most well known and respected universities. (www.openculture.com)

Our mental health plays a big part in over all brain health. Are you sad? Anxious? Maybe you find yourself carrying around a negative attitude? If so, seek friendly, supportive friends and family and share your concerns. If you don’t get relief from this, consider seeking professional health. Isolated? Reach out and get involved with others. Whether that’s at a senior lunch center, volunteering for your favorite organization, or hosting a neighborhood potluck, being social is good for your brain.

In my current, semi-retirement phase of life, I feel like I have hit the Mother Lode of brain health through my involvement with Humboldt Light Opera Company’s Boomer Troupe. We just wrapped up our third  production, The Music of Our Lives. Rehearsals were challenging and full of fun. Interacting with our talented cast was stimulating … and rewarding. While memorizing dialog, songs, and dance steps felt overwhelming at times, I knew my brain was getting a great workout. I think it’s safe to say that our audiences had their own neurological boost from this production.

Whatever positive approach to brain health you engage in, know that your quality of life may improve significantly and isn’t that worth a little effort?