It’s been said that brain function is like a muscle; if you don’t use it, you lose it. The brain is a wonderful thing in that it adapts and changes throughout your lifetime. As you learn and experience new things, you create and strengthen neural pathways and networks. This process actually helps to make your brain stronger. In the same way that you exercise to keep your body in shape, there are all kinds of ways you can keep your mind fit and sharp at any age. Here are just a few.
1. Learn to meditate
More than a passing fad, meditation is here to stay and has been shown to boost cognitive function, build focus and concentration and actually increase your grey matter. Just the act of sitting still and focusing your mind is a task in itself, so it’s a discipline that gives your brain a workout while you’re sitting still.
2. Learn something new
Whether you start a weekly ceramics class or decide it’s finally time to get your driver’s licence, learning something new challenges your brain to think differently and work through unfamiliar challenges.
If you’re up for an even bigger challenge, finishing your degree or starting a new one will really up the ante. If you think you’re too old or you’ve missed your chance, you haven’t. Now you can study for your degree through the uni of your choice in your own time and from home. You can take one subject or three, depending on the time you have. If you’re not sure where to start, Open Universities Australia can help you find the right course, help you to enrol and get started.
3. Join a book club
If you love to read, a book club is a great way to expand your horizons and get social, too. The idea of a book club is to choose a book for everyone to read within a set time, then you get together over a cuppa (or a glass of wine) to discuss it. Having a deadline to finish a book will mean you’re reading more and more often, and the group discussion will give you new perspectives on the book that you mightn’t have considered when you were reading it. It’s also a great way to get out of a reading slump if you’re stuck in one particular genre and you’ll be exposed to new writers and topics along the way.
You can start a book club with your friends, or your local library or community centre will have a list of book clubs that welcome new members.
4. Start a journal
Journaling isn’t new, but in the digital age it’s more common to tap out your thoughts, rather than put pen to paper. Earnest Hemingway famously wrote by hand before transferring his manuscripts to a typewriter. Some studies have shown that writing by hand increases cognitive activity and this can actually make you smarter.
So, bonus points for writing by hand. But either way, writing a journal is a great way to organise your thoughts and give them clarity. The discipline of sitting down to write also improves your concentration and can be cathartic if there’s something on your mind or you want to get off your chest.
5. Get enough sleep
This seems simple enough, but there’s a reason sleep deprivation has been used as torture. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, you literally will go out of your mind and your body’s functions will shut down, too. Your brain never stops working, but the work it does when you sleep is very different to when you’re awake. There’s an expression that sleep ‘washes’ the brain. Recent studies have suggested that sleep allows the brain to go into ‘housekeeping’ mode to remove toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
Setting yourself a bedtime routine trains your brain to get ready to sleep and can help regulate your sleep patterns. Avoid devices in your bedroom, alcohol or big meals too close to bedtime and take the time to wind down with relaxing activities such as a warm shower or reading before you turn out the light. With regular, good quality sleep you’ll awake refreshed, alert and ready for a new day.