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Easy exercises to keep your brain in shape

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Living to an old age isn’t much fun if you can’t remember anything. No matter what your age, you can protect your memory and keep your mind sharp with one habit: practice a mental exercise every day. Practice consistently, and by the end of the month, you will have a new brain-boosting habit that will pave the way for a long and memorable life!

This comes from habits found in the 2011 Longevity Program, a yearlong plan of monthly activities that come from the habits of centenarians from around the world. The idea of this program is that by choosing a simple activity and doing it every day, you will gradually develop 12 new healthy habits by the end of the year.

If you are interested in a more formal longevity program, check out my newest book Secrets of Longevity 8-Week Program, a journal that will transform your health and lengthen your years. 

This Month's Habit: Practice a brain-boosting exercise each day

Here’s why: While you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, you can certainly teach your brain some new tricks. Scientists have found that the human brain has an amazing ability to adapt and change--an ability called neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, helping increase your cognitive capabilities, improve your ability to learn new information, and give your memory a boost.

By the time you are an adult, your brain has developed millions of neural pathways that help you solve problems you have come across before and process information at a rapid pace. But sticking to these well-worn pathways does not give your brain the stimulation it needs to keep developing. Mental brain puzzles performed on a daily basis help strengthen your brain by activating new neural pathways. One thing to keep in mind: the activity you choose should be a little out of your comfort zone. If you choose something you are already good at, even if it’s intellectually demanding, it isn’t an optimal choice for exercising your brain. Also, try to practice around the same time every day, because consistent cycles aid in the development of new neural pathways.

*Brain-Boosting Exercises

These brain exercises help improve brain capacity in younger people and restore mental faculties that are declining in older people.

1. Use it or lose it with a cognitive workout: Memorize a poem, play chess, enjoy a challenging crossword puzzle, learn phone numbers by heart, add numbers without a calculator, learn the words to a new song, or memorize a shopping list--as long as it’s something new to you. Keep challenging yourself with new tasks.

2. Use your non-dominant hand: If you’re right-handed, use your left hand to eat, comb your hair, brush your teeth, write your name, or try putting your mouse pad on the other side of the keyboard. This practice of non-dominant hand use stimulates communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, helping to improve mental capacity as well as physical balance. Another idea: tai chi and yoga are physical activities that coach people to use the right and left side of the body equally.

*Reward yourself

If you stick to the plan nearly every day, think of a way to reward yourself. You will be more likely to follow through with your goal when there is a bonus at the finish line.

*Stay on track

To stay on course, ask yourself these questions each day. Keeping a written record of daily answers will help you stick to the plan and may offer insights to keep you inspired.

• Are you practicing one brain-boosting exercise every day? What has the experience been like?

• How do you feel today compared to the previous day? How about to one week ago? You may notice that you are processing new information more quickly and you may feel more alert.

• What obstacles are keeping you from practicing your mental exercise every day? What can you do to remove the obstacle?

*Make it happen! An answer for every excuse

• Miss a day? Sometimes, when things get busy, you might miss a day or two. But, you are not a failure! Let it go and consider the reasons for missing a few days. What will you do differently for more successful results? Simply recommit, make adjustments, and continue where you left off. Don’t ever give up!

• Too boring. Keep your mental activity fun. If none of the above examples work for you, try any appealing activity that requires some mental effort and expands your knowledge. Some examples are learning a new language, instrument, or technological device. Try a sport or other physical activity you have never tried before, like qi gong or a zumba dance class.

• Forget to practice. Start simply. If you can’t remember to do a brain exercise every day, try building off of the daily habits you already have. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. On your commute, memorize the signs around you and then recall them to memory. In an empty moment, try to remember each birthday of the people you know.

At the end of the month: If you have been practicing one mental exercise a day, it is likely that you have created a new brain-boosting habit. Keep up the good work and stay tuned for next month, where you will learn how staying hydrated helps you cleanse and improve cellular health! Look for my monthly articles to guide you through a healthy and happy 2011.

You can find more ways to live a long and healthy life in Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100, which is now available on Kindle. In addition, The Natural Health Dictionary makes a great companion to your quest for longevity. It is a comprehensive guide that answers all your questions about natural remedies, healing herbs, longevity foods, vitamins, and supplements.

I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

By Dr. Maoshing Ni




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