< Return to Previous Page

Using Mental Workouts to Stay Sharp

By Thomas Lowrey, Senior Services Education Assistant.

Lifting weights. Doing a brisk walk for a couple of miles. Going to Zumba class. Swimming a few laps. Practicing yoga or tai-chi. These and other activities are great ways to maintain strong bones and muscles, to increase flexibility and endurance, and to keep that heart healthy. Everyone agrees that good physical fitness can greatly enhance our quality of life.

But what about mental fitness? Do our brains need regular workouts as much as our bodies do?

“Yes, most definitely!” says Amy Kelly, CTRS, Activity Specialist at Seasons Adult Day Services. It’s Amy’s job to help her clients stay physically and mentally active, and she says that it’s important for everyone to exercise not only the body, but the brain as well.

“At Seasons, we focus a lot of our energy on memory fitness,” she says. She and her coworkers provide many challenges for Seasons clients—challenges that exercise several different areas of the brain and are fun at the same time. There’s the Last Letter Challenge, where one person in a group is given a word like “dragon,” and they have to come up with a word that begins with the last letter in dragon, such as “nut.” The next person might choose “tomato;” the next word might be “owl,” and so on.

Some people at Seasons like to use puzzles, trivia games, or even MadLibs on the iPad, which can be hooked up to Apple TV so that people can participate in groups. Amy also recommends an online brain training program called Lumosity, which can improve cognitive function in various populations.

Getting involved in music can also be beneficial.  A study from the University of Kansas Medical Center found that continuing to play an instrument keeps the brain healthy as we age.

Are crosswords and Sudoku good mental workouts?  “Yes,” says Amy, “but it’s important that we not keep repeating the same exercise over and over. People need to have a variety of challenges in order to stay sharp.”

Laura L. Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, agrees. “The brain loves novelty; it loves a challenge. Whenever you break from routine, you’re laying down new brain circuits and giving your memory muscles the workout they need to stay healthy longer.”

“People need to keep challenging themselves,” says Amy. “Get up off the couch and give your brain something new to do.”