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University of Illinois

Are you exercising your brain?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2012

News writer: Phyllis Picklesimer, 217-244-2827, p-pickle@illinois.edu

URBANA - When someone asks you to think about health, wellness, and fitness, you usually think about physical health, exercise, or nutrition. But, as you age, you should also work on your cognitive or brain health, said a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

"Our cognitive health can be described as the ability to think, reason, and remember. As we age, like the rest of our bodies, our brains slow down and become less flexible and accurate," said Cheri Burcham.

According to Burcham, there are a few things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Getting enough good, high-quality sleep is important along with eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly.

"I have heard the phrase 'What's good for the heart is good for the brain' more than once while working with this topic. Lowering stress levels and keeping solid social connections and support also contribute to achieving good brain health," she said.

Researchers agree that challenging your brain daily is also beneficial and necessary to maintain brain health and delay cognitive decline as we get older, she said.

"Brain fitness is a very hot topic right now. I recently entered this term in the search engine Bing and found 191 million results!" she added.

Experts agree that we need to challenge our brains with many different activities. It is essential to reach beyond what is comfortable and try new exercises and activities that are interesting, varied, and make us think a little more, she said.

"If an activity becomes too easy, we aren't really exercising anymore. Adjust the level of difficulty until you feel challenged again. If you enjoy seek-a-word puzzles and have done so many that they are becoming very easy to do, try doing a different variety of the puzzle, like finding the words spelled backwards, or switch to finding number sequences instead," she said.

You may want to switch to something totally new like Sudoku or crossword puzzles, she added.

"Variety is also key because the brain has many different areas to keep fit. Just as we wouldn't be considered physically fit if we exercised only our legs, we can't achieve total brain health if we focus only on one area, such as short-term memory. We also have to exercise critical thinking, spatial reasoning, and long-term memory," Burcham said.

Do you have to take a class to practice brain fitness? Absolutely not, she said. According to the expert, there are many ways to practice brain fitness, including:

"You're never too old to get started, but the earlier you begin, the better. What are you waiting for? Start your brain workout right away!" she said.

For more information on this topic or other family-life–related topics, contact Cheri Burcham at University of Illinois Extension at 217-543-3755 or at cburcham@illinois.edu. .

Source: Cheri Burcham, Extension Educator, Family Life, cburcham@illinois.edu

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