Prevention: Brain Exercise

Learning new skills can benefit your brain healthPursuing new interests and learning new skills later in life may benefit brain health. We know that having interests and new hobbies can be a fun way to spend our time. It’s also true that learning new skills may improve our thinking ability. Studies have shown participation in a range of mentally and socially engaging activities in midlife reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Researchers believe one way these activities may help strengthen the brain is by building "cognitive reserve." Brain exercise may help the brain become more adaptable to dementia or other brain disease that destroy brain cells. A cushion or “reserve” of healthy brain cells, built by lots of time spent exercising the brain, can help the brain compensate for health conditions that later occur.

It’s possible to exercise the brain through a variety of ways. Brain games like crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or Sudoko can be helpful, but may only stimulate certain regions of the brain. It’s best to do these puzzles in addition to other brain stimulating activities. Learning something new is an especially good way to build a healthier brain. Learning new skills, trying new hobbies, practicing a new language, learning details about a new topic and teaching it to others, these are all good ways to exercise important parts of the brain.

Other ideas of cognitive activities include:

  • Visiting museums
  • Taking a course at a college or community center
  • Mastering a new cooking or baking technique
  • Quilting and sewing
  • Learning a new language
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Arts and other hobbies
  • Participation in leisure activities such as sports, card groups, dancing, gardening, groups, cultural activities and conversation
  • Board games
  • Crosswords
  • Sudoku and other puzzles

While all of these activities are potentially beneficial, it’s especially good to look for cognitive activities involving social interaction and physical activity as well. Recent research suggests combining cognitive, social and physical components in leisure activities offers the greatest benefit in terms of reducing dementia risk. A dance class, for example, would be a way to practice all three brain health benefits.


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