Keep your brain in shape with these 12 smart tips.
Your Mind Gets Better With Age if it's Active
Credit: Van Chaplin, Vince Lupo

Giving yourself a mental workout is as important for your body as taking regular walks. When it comes to flexing brainpower, you don't have to get in an exercise rut. Numerous tasks, such as doing a crossword puzzle, can improve your cognitive edge. Start by introducing some of these fun tricks into your daily routine.

1. Work on Wordplay
Whether you're figuring out the newspaper's crossword puzzle or circling the answers in a word-jumble book, your mind reaps the benefits of activities requiring lots of thought. Start easy, and work up to more difficult versions. You can find these types of books at most supermarkets.

2. Read, Read, Read
Reading significantly enhances cognitive ability, especially in children. Get your whole family excited about reading by making an event out of visiting a local bookstore or library. Then make a point to read a little more and watch television a little less. It will be time well spent!

3. Go for a Walk
Or a run, or a swim, or any other type of aerobic activity you enjoy. By raising the heart rate andincreasing blood circulation, physical activity helps the brain function better. So the next time you hit a mental roadblock, refresh yourself with an invigorating exercise break.

4. Take Dance Lessons
Along with offering aerobic benefits, dancing challenges your brain. Dancers learn how to think quickly on their feet. Sign up for a dance class that best suits your personality.

5. Listen to Lots of Music
Music can help you relax and take worries off your mind. Certain songs also can evoke emotions from past events, which triggers the brain to recall and retain more memories.

6. Sleep on It
Your brain is very active while you're snoozing. Scientists believe that sleeping helps your brain organize the information you acquire when you're awake. That's more than enough reason to get eight hours of sleep each night.

7. Play Games
Choose your favorite games, and then plan a game night. Not only does the playful competition offer quality time with friends and family, but it also causes you to think outside the proverbial box.

8. Alter Your Daily Routine
Encourage your brain to think extra hard by mixing up the way you perform regular tasks. For example, brush your teeth with your nondominant hand or cook an unusual meal for your family. These mental exercises help create new connections in your brain.

9. Be Social
An engaging conversation forces you to think about interesting topics--but even small talk can offer advantages. Try to meet new people the next time you're at a party.

10. Pick a Hobby
Choosing a new pastime requires thought and research. Before you begin, ask for advice and read instruction books. Once you get started, you will continue to learn from mistakes and the successes you achieve.

11. Write It Down
Journaling can relieve your mind of stress while allowing you to express feelings. Writing also helps you feel more focused. Release joys and concerns onto paper before your head hits the pillow. You might even find that you sleep better.

12. Take a Trip
Visit a place you wouldn't normally go, and see how the experience opens your mind. It doesn't have to be a long vacation; a trip to a science museum or art exhibition also broadens your brain's horizons.

This article is from the October 2005 issue of Southern Living.