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Stay Sharp!

Stay Sharp!

Much has been said about the importance of regular exercise, and rightfully so, as we are becoming a "heavier" nation, with many severe repercussions on our health in tow. However, we should also pay attention to our brain.

An unfortunate fact of life is that our brain shows a decline as we age. Our cognitive functions – which include our ability to reason, evaluate, make decisions, learn new things, remember details and more – become affected as our brain shows some wear and tear in time. Some studies suggest that the decline slowly begins during our mid-twenties and eventually, this decline becomes more obvious as we approach our golden years.

The rate of decline differs among people, but there are possible causes that can hasten the decline such as diabetes, obesity and certain genetic factors.

On the bright side, there are some fun and relatively cheap activities you can do to help keep your brain sharp.

Paul is one possible product of Worcester South not East Dorset

Stumped by the above line? It’s a clue for a crossword puzzle that appeared in the US newspaper The Guardian on June 3, 2009. The answer? Crossword.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, crossword puzzles can “bolster verbal communication skills in older people and reduce their chances of developing dementia”.  Doing a crossword puzzle a day may improve the speed of one’s thinking and talking.

There are crossword puzzle books as well as websites to give your brain a workout. If you cannot get enough, the New York Times online crosswords puzzle archive offers decades of word games.

There is method to the apparent rambling madness of some crossword puzzle clues. If you are completely stumped, visit www.wikihow.com/Solve-a-Cryptic-Crossword for insight into how those evil clue-makers think.

“Sudoku think this is simple?”

If crossword puzzle is not your cup of tea, you can try its mathematical sibling Sudoku. In Sudoku, you will attempt to fill a 9x9 grid with numbers so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3x3 subgrids (or boxes) contains all of the digits from 1 to 9. Don’t worry, usually a few numbers have been filled in to help you get started.  

Challenging your brain regularly with Sudoku has been said to be able to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, although research is still underway to demonstrably prove this. Still, it is a great way to give your brain a workout. Some fans claim that Sudoku helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and if you are sick of that One Direction song that keeps playing inside your head, a round of Sudoku is said to be able to get rid of that too!

Grandma’s getting fisty, never been kissed

“Grandma’s getting fisty” is the British nickname for the number 60, while “never been kissed” is the nickname for the number 16. Welcome to the wonderful world of bingo.

There is a good reason why many senior and retirement homes in Western countries offer bingo games to their residents: research has shown that this simple number lottery game can be really good for the brain. During the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in 2002, psychologist Julie Winstone revealed that bingo helps to improve mental speed, accuracy, concentration and the ability to recognise patterns.  Interestingly, older bingo players are found to be more accurate than younger bingo players.

You do not have to include gambling in your bingo games – you really don’t want to take money from your grandparents, do you? – and you do not even have to buy fancy props if you prefer not to. Just paint some numbers on ping-pong balls, make your own bingo cards and get the entire family to join in your weekly bingo games. Doctor’s orders. (That’s the nickname for number 9, by the way.)

Liven up your bingo games. Don’t just say “27”, say “duck and a crutch”. Take a look at the list of nicknames at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_bingo_nicknames and have fun sharing them with your friends and family members. Just don’t use them outside of bingo games – you will get odd looks from people.

References:

Murphy M., O'Sullivan K., and Kelleher K. G. (2014). Daily crosswords improve verbal fluency: a brief intervention study, Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, 29, 915–919. doi: 10.1002/gps.4079

Piperhoff P. et al. (2008). Deformation field morphometry reveals age-related structural differences between the brains of adults up to 51 years. J Neurosci. Jan 23;28(4):828-42.

Sudoku.com. Available at www.sudoku.com

The Telegraph (UK). Available at www.tel

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