8 stimulating activities to stay mentally sharp as you age

Try these surprising and time-tested tips and strategies to exercise your brain and boost your cognitive function.

Active senior adult couple enjoys art hobby together outdoors in public park or forest area

When it comes to brain health and reducing your risk of dementia, “Use it or lose it” is a pretty accurate expression. Even though factors such as aging, stress, genetics, health conditions and lifestyle choices like drinking and smoking can impact brain function, research shows that there are plenty of things seniors can do to protect and enhance their cognitive skills. Indeed, even seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may help slow down cognitive decline to some degree. Clear thinking, learning and memory all rely on cognitive health, so try some of these activities for seniors to stay mentally sharp as they age.

“It is just as important to exercise your brain as it is your muscles!” agrees April Powell, a Life Enrichment Coordinator at Amica Whitby. “Brain stimulation helps keep our senior residents independent, thanks to fun and engaging activities like trivia games, name that tune, spelling bees, math quizzes and much more.” 

1. Understand how brain exercise works

Did you know that your brain is made up of about 86 billion neurons? Experts once thought neurons were irreplaceable, and that the brain couldn’t change in adulthood. Now research has shown that brain “plasticity” allows the brain to adapt, create new connections and rewire itself — even when you’re older. Challenging or exercising your brain helps develop new synapses through which your brain cells connect and communicate.

2. Move your body to benefit your brain

Moderate-to-vigorous exercise isn’t just good for your heart and your body — it also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which helps improve memory and decrease the risk of dementia. So go for a brisk walk, a swim or an exercise class every day. Or try a new sport for a bonus brain boost. At Amica, residents can enjoy the fitness centre or pool, or take part in accessible yoga, Zumba, TheraBand fitness classes, strength training, dance lessons and much more.

“Our cardio drumming class is a great example of exercise that benefits our residents’ brains and bodies,” says Terry Wong, a Life Enrichment Coordinator at Amica Somerset House who teaches drum fitness. “Residents get a decent cardio workout while having so much fun.”

3. Learn something new

Use an app to practice a new language, experience the benefits of art and art-making, take an online course or discover something new at your local museum. All these activities help stimulate your brain, which is why Amica offers lifelong learning activities ranging from culinary workshops to lavender farm visits to beekeeping lessons. 

“At Amica Somerset House, some residents give short lectures based on their former careers,” says Wong. “Others start painting for the first time, or learn to play poker or Mah-jong, which expands their social circle, too.” 

4. Challenge yourself with brain games

Games are great for building focus, memory and problem-solving skills. Crossword puzzles, video games, number and word puzzles, Sudoku, memory challenges, chess, backgammon and card games all keep your brain humming. Read “Are brain games helpful?” and “The memory trick you’ve already been practicing” to learn more. 

5. Catch more zzzs

Use our expert tips to get more sleep, which helps the brain set memories and repair itself. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night can positively affect your concentration, memory and mood.

6. Guard your mental health

Left unchecked, stress negatively impacts your memory, mood and brain function, and can contribute to a variety of health conditions. Listening to music to boost happiness and brain activity, meditation and mindfulness, nature walks, journaling, knitting and colouring are all soothing activities that can lower stress. 

7. Make smart, healthy choices

When you eat more vegetables, fruits and fish with omega-3 fatty acids, quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake, you’re helping your body and your brain. Those healthy actions help prevent disease and benefit your blood vessels, which deliver nourishing blood and oxygen to your brain. 

8. Socialize to stay sharp

Great news: spending time socializing with friends and family is not only enjoyable, it also improves brain function and lowers the risk of dementia. (Read more tips on combating social isolation and staying connected.)  

Community and connection are key benefits of senior living at Amica. As a resident, you’ll have the advantage of programming from Life Enrichment Coordinators who are always offering new and innovative ways to facilitate brain-boosting activities that bring seniors together.

“Casino day was a huge hit with our Amica Whitby residents — they loved playing Blackjack together,” says Powell, who also organizes lecture events on mental health and happiness. “Combining food and learning is always popular, too. Think cheese tasting events, baking workshops and tea tastings.”

If learning while having a good time sounds like a great combination, why not book a virtual or in-person tour? You’ll find out what it’s like to enjoy living on your own terms in an elegant Amica residence with outstanding dining, amenities, activities, senior care and safety measures.