By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, U of I ACES News and Public Affairs
URBANA, Ill. — At the start of each new year, many resolve to make some kind of change in our lives, whether it is to lose weight, quit smoking, save money or exercise more. But very few of us dedicate ourselves to better brain fitness, said University of Illinois Extension Family Life Educator Molly Hofer.
“Concerns about memory problems as we age are common for all of us,” Hofer said. “This year, why not resolve to be more mentally active on a daily basis? Engaging your mind in intellectual challenges by participating in new and interesting activities will help support brain health and function.”
Other brain health contributors include eating a healthy, well-balanced diet; getting enough rest; reducing stress; spending time with others; and engaging in aerobic forms of exercise like walking, swimming or biking, she said.
“As you think about what you’d like to do to challenge yourself intellectually, be sure to choose an activity or endeavor that interests you so you will stick with it,” she said. “It is also important to reach beyond what is comfortable and try to increase the difficulty of the activity.”
If you like to listen to music, try listening to a different type of music that you know little about and learn all you can about that genre. If you love to do a daily crossword puzzle, try doing more difficult or different types of puzzles. If you are an avid reader, pick up a book that you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t, or read about a new topic of interest, she added.
“You can even work on brain fitness while waiting for appointments or at stoplights!” Hofer said. “All you need to do is work on recall. A common problem that many of us experience, especially as we grow older, is the inability to recall information when we need it. We have that tip-of-the-tongue feeling in which we know the name of a particular restaurant or person, but it’s just not coming forth.”
This is a type of forgetfulness that can be frustrating, she acknowledged.
“The more we try to remember, the more anxious we become when we can’t remember,” she said. “Experts recommend challenging yourself with recall types of activities whenever and wherever you like! All you need to do is think of a category and start listing items, either on paper or in your mind.”
Hofer suggests making a mental or written list of as many fruits and vegetables as you can. You will look to your longterm memory to try to recall them.
“At first, common produce will come to you very quickly and easily, but the challenge comes when you really need to work to remember,” she said. “At this point, when you keep going, you are exercising your brain!”
If you’ve wanted to learn a new language, take up knitting or attend educational workshops, do it! If you’ve also vowed to exercise more and eat healthy, these resolutions are also good for maintaining both a healthy body and mind, she said.
From the Jan. 1-6, 2014, issue