All fun and games, and cognitive ability

All fun and games, and cognitive ability
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  • Take a dance class, which challenges you to learn new steps and routines.
    Take a dance class, which challenges you to learn new steps and routines.

Planting yourself in front of the television after you retire might be tempting after a hectic and challenging career, but research has shown that it isn't good for you.

Since cognitive decline can be a natural part of the aging process, you want to do everything possible to prevent that by regularly doing mental (as well as physical) workouts.

Consider challenging yourself with brain teasers, memory games, arts and crafts, logic puzzles and other mental "workouts" like Sudoku, chess and trivia games. It is just as important to keep your brain in tiptop shape as your body!

In fact, researchers have discovered that engaging in such mental gymnastics can often avoid, postpone or mitigate mental diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias. They have learned that seniors who have learned a new skill like quilting, knitting or even flying were much less likely to experience dementia than those who involved themselves in activities like reading.

Keeping the mind active through cognitive exercise is as important as keeping the body active through physical exercise. It appears that those who challenge their brains to acquire new skills enjoy better brain health and cognition. Pushing the brain to learn a new skill or game can cause it to grow and not atrophy.

For instance, growth in cognition can be seen in those seniors who engage in everything from board games to video games, as well as memory games, card games, word games and trivia games. Seniors can even challenge themselves to memorize shopping lists or items in a room or they can mentally add lists of numbers.

Here are some other suggestions. You can turn to your computer, iPad or phone and use it as a resource for the following challenges:

• The AARP website has an entire section dedicated to memory, attention and language-building games that sharpen cognitive function, from match games designed to enhance visual and auditory memory, to word puzzles.

• Easter Seals and Brain HQ have teamed up to offer "Train Your Brain," which offers 20 clinically proven brain-training exercises designed to work specific areas of the brain. These targeted exercises have been shown to improve cognitive processing by up to 130 percent while simultaneously improving memory function by a decade.

• Another option is Lumosity (www.lumosity.com), which charges a monthly fee but many people swear by its many brain benefits. It offers fun games, developed by a panel of neuroscientists, which measure and enhance cognitive abilities. Members not only gain access to more than 40 scientific games, they also receive their own "personal trainer," as well as training reminders and performance testing.

But not all options are tied to the computer. Here are some others:

• Do arts and crafts projects. They keep your hands nimble, use up odds and ends around your house and provide gifts and cards for your loved ones.

• Attack a jigsaw puzzle -- by yourself or as part of a group. They hone fine motor skills and also give a sense of accomplishment when they are completed.

• Go to the local bingo game where you can interact with others. It can be a great social activity.

• Engage in logic puzzles that help to fire up neural pathways which have gotten cold (or at least chilly) since you aren't going to work every day anymore.

• Read a book and then tell someone else the story from memory. It is a great challenge.

• Challenge yourself to learn a new language, even if it is only a holiday greeting or a few words.

• Take a dance class, which challenges you to learn new steps and routines, improving balance. Or learn to play a musical instrument.

• Take on a volunteer task like walking dogs, reading to children or being a tour guide in a local museum.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that brain exercises ward off mental decline in aging adults just as well as physical exercises ward off physical decline. Puzzles and memory games offer an endless supply of brain-boosting benefits for yourself or your aging loved one.

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