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Two Vital Ways to Keep the Brain Sharp, Experts State

Update Date: Sep 24, 2014 11:32 AM EDT

As people age, cognitive functions will inevitably start to deteriorate. However, several studies have suggested that the rate of deterioration can be controlled to a certain extent via healthy lifestyle choices. According to experts who cited previous studies in a TIME article, there are two vital ways to keep the brain sharp.

The first way is to stay active through aerobic exercise. Several studies have found that exercising is not only good for physical health, it is also beneficial for mental health. These researchers reported that when people exercise, the brain gets more nutrients and oxygen that help it perform more efficiently.

"Some brain regions and functions seem to benefit more than others," Dr. Karen Li, the head of Concordia University's laboratory for adult development and cognitive aging, stated. "That tells us aerobic exercise helps the brain work more efficiently."

Li added that getting the heart rate up and sweating a little could improve brain health more than those brain-challenging games that promise to keep your mind sharp. Ideally, adults are recommended to put in at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise per week, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The second way to keep the mind sharp is to engage in situations that will challenge the mind. Li stated that if all of your daily tasks can be performed on autopilot, such as grocery shopping or cooking, it is time to add something to your normal routine that would require the brain to work. Even though games, such as Sudoku, might challenge the brain, these games do not cover all aspects of brain health.

"They target very specific cognitive abilities, but they don't transfer to clarity of thinking, problem solving, planning-all the complex skills that really matter," Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, commented.

Instead, people should try to partake in more social activities. Conversations with new and old people can keep the mind working. Furthermore, new social activities, such as going to a museum that can teach the mind new things can promote brain health.

"Following and contributing to a conversation requires a lot of mental prowess," Li stated. "It's important that you feel genuine interest in these activities."

Chapman added, "Challenge yourself to think in top-down, complex ways as you go about your day. People take in a lot of information-probably more than we ever have before-but it's not making us smarter because we're not spending much time making sense of it. Try to push yourself out of your mental comfort zone by asking what about the information matters."

With many advances in medicine, people are living longer. In order to preserve mental health as long as possible, people should incorporate these two methods into their life.

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