Have you ever heard of the phrase “use it or lose it?” In mental fitness this is as true as it gets. Yet within modern society there seems to be a sense of inevitability that when we get to a certain age, we will lose our mental acuity. Old age sets in, so they say and we cannot expect to be as sharp as we once were. We lose our ability to fend off more degenerative illnesses and diseases associated with mental decline.
It’s inconceivable why this train of thought should be so ingrained. Surely, this is not a foregone conclusion? Quite the contrary, we know that if we spend time at the gym doing either strength training, cardio workouts or combine both that we can expect to be a lot “fitter” going forward. We know that by exercising certain muscle groups and working on the strength of our metabolism and inner core we can be so much more successful in life. This will help with our body tone, our ability to endure and our inner strength and our mental acuity will be much better when we maintain a physical exercise regime. So why don’t we consider brain exercises to improve brain function?
While many people do not engage in any physical activity either, let’s assume for the sake of this conversation that such an activity should be a prerequisite to ultimate fitness. Let’s add mental fitness to physical fitness with the same expectation, as we use it or lose it.
Many studies over the years have shown that people who make sure that their brain is active and challenged as they age endure far fewer illnesses or diseases associated with what they once thought was “inevitable.” It’s good to know these exercises are easy to do (unlike weightlifting) and are not boring (like jogging on a treadmill). When you get into the habit of performing these brain exercises, you can do them in any situation, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. The secret is to get into the habit of doing them often.
Remember that we have five senses–the sense of smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing. Each one of these different senses must be active and experience a “work out.” It’s simple. For example, when you go to a restaurant try to identify ingredients in the dish you’re about to eat by smelling and then confirm your findings by reference to the menu or to your friendly server. When you go to the store try to memorize the prices of the items, you might buy regularly and confirm your memory on your next visit. Focus on listening to a distant conversation and don’t rely on turning up the television, just for habit’s sake.
Next focus on sharpening your logic and reasoning. Playing games that involve strategy such as chess, or engaging in a game of cards with your friends are excellent ways to remain sharper. Try to do a crossword puzzle each day. Make sure you switch it up as often as possible as repetition or routine can work at cross purposes. You’re looking for inspiration and should always seek something new with your mental fitness exercises.
Now try to focus on verbal abilities. When you read a book, make a summary of what you’ve read. Commit this to writing and then discuss the book with a friend or family member and summarize it for them. You’re making use of your short-term and long-term memory.
Always be inquisitive and creative. Whenever you go to a new location soak in all the details. What kind of room is it, how is it decorated, what items of furniture are there, how many works of art adorn the walls?
How many people are in the room and how many groups are they split into? These may seem to be rather mundane topics but when you are always inquisitive and engaged it’s amazing how much you can remain in touch.
One of the biggest dangers associated with growing older is the tendency to become less active. It’s very important to avoid monotony and routine as this can lead to a sense of resignation and a lack of motivation. People who remain active into their older years are one step forward in mental fitness. Wherever possible surround yourself with people active in both mind and body and with whom you can engage in various pursuits and pastimes.
Consider moving to or living in a community that’s dedicated to an active lifestyle for those who are nearing, or in retirement. Try to live in an area with a favorable climate, so you can get out and about as often as possible and engage in some outdoor sports such as golf or swimming.
It is said the fear of growing old is one of our greatest, yet it does not have to be this way. When we get older, we have a great deal of experience to fall back on and this should make our lives richer and not poorer. By committing ourselves to improve our mental fitness at the same time as we improve our physical fitness we can remain active and enjoy life for the rest of our days. Isn’t it unfortunate that the word “retirement” somehow seems to signify the beginning of the end…!