Radwan: Staying mentally active keeps our brains healthy

Aziz Radwan, Staff Writer

We have been told that, if we want to improve our cardiovascular health and maintain a healthy weight, then we need regular physical activity. If we wish to improve our mental health, then we should eat well, sleep well, connect with others and practice meditation. It is always good to take care of our physical and mental well-being, but have we considered keeping our brains healthy? Indeed, regular exercise, enough sleep, good eating habits and socializing will keep your brain healthy and slow its decline as you age. However, these individual habits are insufficient to keep our brains in shape. Neurologists have often compared our brains to a muscle; if you don’t use it, you will lose it. But how do we stay mentally active? Staying mentally active requires us to take some steps to activate our brains, so here are some examples of activities that can help incorporate different cognitive skills. 

Solve a crossword puzzle 

While it first appeared in England in the 19th century, the New York World’s Sunday published the modern crossword puzzle in 1913. This well-known game improves your vocabulary. It may be easy to learn a new word, but it can be challenging to use it properly in a sentence. You might sometimes notice when you communicate, you might forget the appropriate term for a specific context to make your point. Forgetting is okay, but if this happens too frequently, you may want to consider improving your verbal skills. Regularly solving crossword puzzles is an excellent mental exercise that will improve your conversational skills over time. 

Read with comprehension

Reading with comprehension involves understanding and synthesizing the content you are reading. You may not be aware that comprehension activates cognitive skills such as attention, visual processing, working memory and processing speed. Struggling readers often lack some of these skills, but they can acquire them with time and practice. If you are confident in reading comprehensively, you may want to consider taking yourself to the next level: speed reading. Speed reading helps you process information more effectively and improves your focus over time.

Play mental math games 

Because we currently have access to calculators, we are, sadly, not using our brains often enough to do mental math. Generally, older generations solve mental math problems better than young people, as they didn’t grow up with easy access to calculators and the internet. They had no option but to calculate problems by hand or in their heads. 

Mental math is solving calculations in the mind without using any device. Mental math allows the brain to recall memorized math facts, thus boosting brain capacity. There are plenty of mental math games that are available online or through cell phone apps. These games only take you a few minutes to play, so why not play them as you wait in line for coffee or while on the bus on a typical day?

Play chess

The game of chess undoubtedly involves intense intellectual challenges. As you become a skilled chess player, you become a more strategic person. Regular chess players can anticipate their opponent’s next moves and therefore develop the ability to understand their opponent’s perspective. Chess can help you think ahead and actively learn that reckless moves can hurt you in the game. This can apply to your life in general, too. Other benefits of playing chess include improving your memory, planning skills and creativity.

Other similar brain training games are available online today. I recommend playing these games if you think they will spark your interest, and also, you get a sense that you are challenging your brain as you play. On the other hand, if you consistently watch shows on Netflix, Hulu or YouTube, then you waste a lot of your own free time in a passive brain mode, which is not healthy for your brain in the long run. It is important to know that brain activities in your everyday life can keep you entertained, sociable and mentally active. Taking care of your body, spirit and mind, altogether, will allow you to live a happier, healthier and balanced life.