Word and number games, such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles, have been found to improve brain function and keep the mind sharp. A new study completed by the University of Exeter and King’s College London, which interviewed over 19,000 participants over the age of 50, found that those who regularly challenge themselves with these types of games and puzzles had better memory recall and longer attention spans compared to participants who did not.
The study found that you can knock a whopping 10 years off mental aging by actively taking part in these activities that help to stimulate thinking and problem solving, with puzzling loving participants showing to have brain function equivalent to people 10 years younger than their age. Regularly taking the time to do games and puzzles can help keep brains working better for longer as well as helping to improve focus and attention day to day. Word puzzles, in particular, have been shown to boost mood and reduce stress, as well as helping to expand our vocabularies.
Sounds like it’s time to dust off the scrabble board or look out the Sudoku stocking filler from last Christmas! Here are seven other ways you can help to boost mental function.
Never stop learning
Keeping curious and making a commitment to never stop learning will help to keep the brain firing. A lot of people will be mentally stimulated at work but once you hit retirement age it’s more important than ever to take up a hobby or interest that will keep you mentally stimulated. It’s all about building and strengthening brain connections – whether it’s reading, puzzles, taking a class or learning a new skill, it’s good to keep busy and challenged.
Draw upon all senses
Involving and engaging all your senses is very good for brain function, especially when it comes to recall. The more of your brain involved and ‘lit up’ when learning something new, the better you’ll be able to remember later, so draw upon all your senses as you venture into new territory. Take time to smell and taste each ingredient when cooking a new dish in the kitchen, for example, and pay attention to the pattern and textures of plants and flowers when gardening and learning new plant names.
There are many well-ingrained negative stereotypes when it comes to getting older and resigning to the fact that your memory and mental capacity slows. However, keeping positive and curious can go a long way to busting these attitudes and realising that there are things you can do to help your own memory is a powerful motivator for good practice – so keep that Sudoku to hand. Keeping a sense of humour when you do occasionally forget a name or appointment is a good call too, we are all human after all!
Use organisers and planners
Keeping your home and life organised can help negate feelings of being scattered – from misplacing your keys at home to missing appointments. Use diaries, calendars and technology to help remind you of your schedule and have appointed places in the home for important everyday items. This will leave more space and brain capacity for attention on more complex or interesting things.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Reinforce brain and memory connections by repeating new information, either out loud or by writing it down. For example, when meeting someone new, use their name again when you first ask them a question so you have repeated the new name out loud. More complex information can be better remembered by taking time to write it down.
Pace your learning
When repeating new information, like with exam revision, it’s better to avoid cramming in a short space of time. If you want the best chance of remembering it long term, repeat new information a few times at first, then try to recall it again, over increasingly longer periods of time – once an hour, every couple of hours, once a day etc. This is especially good for more complex information with lots of fine detail.
These are handy for facts that are trickier to recall, especially if you need to think fast, and are either in the form of acronyms such a ‘RICE’, the first aid guide for injuries that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation or in the form of sentences such as ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat’, a memory aid for ‘North, East, South, West’. You can get creative and make your own, as long as it’s catchy and easy for you to remember personally!