Everybody experiences memory lapses—those moments when you can’t find your keys or remember a name. Sometimes memory lapses are of greater concern. The World Health Organization estimates 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia, a condition marked by long-term memory loss, impaired judgment or language and frequent changes in personality and social behavior. There are 7.7 million new cases each year.
The good news is you can help keep your brain sharp through fun, mind-boosting activities. A 2015 study from King’s College London found playing online reasoning and other games can help improve memory skills; separate research conducted by Rush University Medical Center and the Illinois Institute of Technology, both in Chicago, found that participants who regularly enjoyed mentally stimulating activities showed larger densities of white matter (the part of the brain that transports information) than those who didn’t participate in those activities.
Try these cognitive-centric exercises to stay sharp and keep age-related memory loss at bay:
Logic puzzles and brain teasers
Mind games and crafts involving concentration and focus stimulate brain cells and are great for improving mental activity. People who engage in craft activities such as knitting are 16 percent less likely to develop memory problems, according the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. Logic puzzles, such as Sudoku, refine problem-solving skills; brainteasers and crosswords, such as “The New York Times” daily puzzles, call on memory and knowledge.
Several studies have indicated cognitive activities such as reading or playing word and other games can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Games that require you to find patterns in a series of words—such as the online brain exercise Word Bubbles by Lumosity—are particularly beneficial.
Social interaction can also have a powerful effect. A recent study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal found frequent feelings of isolation might be associated with early preclinical Alzheimer disease-related brain changes. Games that invite group interaction—such as bingo, charades, trivia or card games—strengthen different parts of the brain because social exercises generally require hand-eye coordination, listening and multi-tasking. And, they help you avoid isolation.
Lifting weights and engaging in other types of exercise can provide mental benefits; in addition to helping you stay fit. Increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with mild cognitive impairment, according to a study from the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia.
Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous. Go for a walk or do pool aerobics for 30 minutes, four to five days a week. If you’re new to working out or if it’s been a while, ask your doctor before starting a new fitness routine. And, consider working with a trainer to set goals and make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts.
For more information on lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, download our guide to Preventing Long-Term Memory Loss.