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Improve Your Brain Fitness

Mental Calisthenics for Grandparents


One of the most frustrating aspects of growing older is the loss of brain fitness. The maxim, "Use it or lose it," applies to the brain as well as to the body. Staying sharp will make it easier for you to bridge the generation gap and stay close to your children and grandchildren. Work out with some of these mental calisthenics today!

1. Work crosswords and play word games.

crossword puzzles
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Older people often experience the phenomenon of not being able to retrieve a word if they haven't used it for a while. Crossword puzzles and other word games can revive those words that are on the verge of sinking into oblivion, as well as adding new words to your vocabulary. The problem solving skills required are also good brain exercise. Word puzzles and games are readily available in newspapers and on the Internet. You may even want to try playing online word games against some of the old friends that are the subject of our next hint.

2. Maintain your social networks.

social networking
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A problem that is similar to being unable to retrieve a word is forgetting the names of people that you haven't seen in a while. Social networking sites on the computer can alleviate this problem by creating contacts with people that you don't see often in the flesh. Not only will you remember their names, you'll also get to see their photos and learn what is going on in their lives. As you learn to use social networks, you'll also be learning new skills. If you are resistant to the idea of social networks, use email and phone calls to keep in touch, and be sure to read the local newspaper.

3. Don't reach for the calculator.

no calculators
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If you're a grandparent, chances are that you learned to do simple math in your head and with pencil and paper instead of relying on a calculator. When it comes to brain exercise, the old ways are the best. Whether you're figuring a tip, gas mileage or tax on a bill, try doing it the old-fashioned way. Of course, if you are figuring something really crucial, like your income tax, you'll want to double-check it with a calculator. Sudoku and other math games can boost your brain power even more.

4. Learn a new skill.

learn to play the guitar
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A new hobby will force your brain to work in new ways. So will learning to do useful tasks such as small repair and maintenance jobs. If you've always wanted to learn a musical instrument and never got around to it, there's no time like the present. Learning to do something new on the computer will serve as well, and if you need some assistance, you can probably get some from your grandchildren!

5. Practice remembering.

make a list
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Another good brain exercise is to practice remembering things whether you need to or not. Make a grocery list but see how many things you can remember without looking at the list. Memorize the birthdays of all your family members, or random lists like the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After all, you have a reputation for wisdom to maintain! With the ubiquity of electronic devices, most of us don't bother to memorize phone numbers, but that can be a problem when your battery dies unexpectedly.

6. Eat right and exercise.

healthy eating
Photo © Nick Rowe / Getty
One of the best ways to improve brain function is to exercise your body. The evidence that physical exercise is also brain exercise is quite conclusive. It only makes sense; after all, the brain is part of the body. It also makes sense that a good diet is good for the brain. From time to time there are studies claiming that particular foods are miracle foods for the brain. Those claims may or may not be true, but it is certain that diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, high in antioxidants and low in bad fats is good for the brain as well as for the rest of the body.

7. Train yourself to use memory aids.

mark your calendar
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It may seem as if using memory aids would be a way of getting around having to use the brain, but in fact they can be a form of brain training as well. After all, you have to remember to use them! Try easy tricks such as parking your car near a tree or light pole to make it easier to find, or putting letters to be mailed in a designated area where you will see them. If you need to remember to do something the next time you go out, put the item itself or a note about it under your car keys. Alarms and electronic reminders have their place, but keeping appointments on a calendar posted in a prominent spot will work as well.

8. Hang out with young people.

holding hands
Photo © Beatrice Killam | Dreamstime
This is the easiest rule of all for grandparents to follow. When you're around your grandchildren and other young people, you won't have to make an effort to exercise your brain. It'll just happen! Young people are always learning something new, and most of the time they are eager to share it with you. They can teach you how to play a new card game, how to text and how to work that new gadget that baffles you. They'll tell you about the latest movies, TV shows, video games, slang terms and dance moves. If you learn a fraction of what they can teach you, your brain will be doing the cognitive equivalent of pumping iron!
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