Mental Exercises to Keep Your Brain Sharp

No matter how hard we try to slow or stop its movement, time marches inevitably on. As it does, our bodies and their abilities change, too. For some people that means certain changes that can alter how we interact with and perceive the world around us.

Use It or Lose It

No matter what your current brain health situation looks like, there are a few things you can do now to help slow or stall the loss of cognitive function over time and keep your brain sharp. All involve using the brain, which functions better when it’s being challenged regularly. “To keep a brain healthy as we age, I firmly believe that we must ‘use it or lose it,'” Scharre says.

Play games and complete puzzles. In addition to the daily crossword puzzle, challenge yourself to doing a new problem-solving exercise every day or a few times a week. “Puzzles and games, especially those involving novelty, can stimulate and challenge key parts of the brain, including reasoning, language, logic, visual perception, attention and flexibility,” Scharre says. Brain teasers such as crossword puzzles and sudoku are fun and easy ways to keep your brain stimulated. Completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing a computer game may also support brain health.

Senior retired man doing a puzzle, only hands.
© (Getty Images)

Engage in continuous learning. Have you always wanted to learn French or how to play an instrument? There’s no time like the present, especially when it comes to preserving cognitive ability. Taking a class or otherwise establishing a routine of continuous learning can pay dividends in helping you learn the skill you want to acquire but will also help support brain health over the long term, Scharre says. “The Alzheimer’s Association reports that continuous learning likely protects against some forms of dementia, possibly because brain cells and their connections with one another become stronger over time.”

Read and write. Snyder says that some research has suggested that flexing your literacy skills could be protective against dementia. A 2019 study found that illiterate older adults were almost three times as likely to have dementia compared to their literate counterparts. It seems reading, whether for pleasure or for work, gives your brain a workout that might help prevent the development of cognitive deficits.

Pick up a new hobby or engage in new experiences. Traveling to a new place and finding your way around and learning about a different culture or people is a fabulous way to keep your brain sharp as you age. It’s not always possible, but if you have the resources and ability to travel, those experiences will help protect your brain’s ability to think, plan and enjoy life to the fullest in the future. Closer to home, consider picking up a new hobby. Learn to paint, take up stamp collecting or get into gardening. Any new pursuit that gets you thinking can help.

The key to all of these activities, Snyder says, is that whatever you’re doing should be “new to you” to provide the biggest brain boost. The novelty of learning something new or going to a new place is what forces the brain to work harder and stay sharper.

Other Ways to Support Brain Health

The brain is part of the body as a whole, and it’s also home to our emotions. As such, tending to mental health can support physical heath.

Be heart-healthy. There’s a saying in medicine that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, so adopting heart-healthy behaviors, including plenty of aerobic exercise and eating right can support a healthy brain along with a healthy heart over the long run. “Your heart is pumping blood throughout the body and if it’s not working it’s best, it might not be getting enough blood and oxygen to the brain,” Snyder says.

Exercise. “Physical exercise is one of the best ways to provide brain stimulation,” Scharre says. “Your brain is working hard when you exercise, controlling your muscles and coordination, knowing when to slow down or continue on.” Snyder recommends ballroom dancing as a great option because not only is it physical, but you’ll also have to think about your next steps and the sequence of moves that add up to a dance. Plus, there’s some evidence that music can be good for the brain and learning to dance can be a lot of fun that has you interacting with others in a social setting. If you don’t like the idea of dancing, consider doing yoga, swimming, biking or walking. Whatever activity you prefer most that you’ll stick with over the long term is the right one for getting you moving more.

Stay socially engaged. “Research shows that human interaction keeps your brain sharp by reducing the destructive stress hormone cortisol,” Scharre says. And social outings, such as having lunch with friends, “provide mental stimulation, which can build and sustain cognitive power,” he says.

Quit smoking. “Among the many health reasons smoking is bad for your body is that it can hinder brain function,” Scharre says. In fact, “one study proved that smoking just one cigarette a day for an extended period can reduce cognitive ability, and smoking 15 cigarettes daily hinders critical thinking and memory by almost 2%. When you stop smoking, your brain benefits from increased circulation almost instantly.”

Get enough sleep. While we’re sleeping our brains are working hard to tidy up from the previous day and get ready for the next. But if we don’t get good sleep, that can disrupt that process and lead to trouble. “Sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea disrupt the brain’s ability to go through certain biological changes and essentially take out its trash,” Snyder says. The longer you deal with chronic sleep disturbances, the more trouble that can spell for your brain, so be sure to go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning and establish other patterns of good sleep hygiene. If you have insomnia, sleep apnea or snore, talk with your doctor about managing those conditions so you can get a better night’s rest.

Control other conditions. Particularly if you have diabetes, heart disease, depression or high blood pressure, seek help in managing these issues as they can impact brain health. People with these conditions have a higher likelihood of developing dementia later in life.

Eat right. A heart-healthy diet such as the Ornish diet, the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet can support good brain health. Eating right can also help keep your weight in check, which may also reduce the risk of developing cognitive issues over time. And, Snyder notes, new research into the gut microbiome has indicated there’s a connection between good bacteria that live in the gut and brain health. Eating to support your gut health might end up also supporting brain health.

A Holistic Approach

The key to all of this, Snyder says, is to take a combination of approaches, rather than focusing on just one aspect of supporting brain health. It seems that brain-protective activities such as those above work best when applied in combating, but there are still lots of outstanding questions about what works best and how much you need to get real benefits.

To help answer such questions, Snyder says numerous studies are ongoing. On large one is the Alzheimer’s Association’s U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk. That two-year clinical trial seeks to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk for cognitive decline, and it’s the first such study to be conducted in a large group of Americans across the United States. “The only way we can get those answers is by doing the studies, and for that we need participants to volunteer,” Snyder says.

Copyright 2020 U.S. News & World Report


Siya Kakkar, TikTok Star, Dead at 17

Nia Ramadhani smiling for the camera
© You Tube

TikTok star Siya Kakkar has died at 17 years old. Her manager, Arjun Sarin, confirmed to ET that Kakkar died by suicide at her home in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, June 24, around the hours of  9-10 p.m.

Sarin told ET he had talked to Kakkar earlier in the day, noting, “She sounded very normal, just like we talk every day.”

“I can just say she was one of the finest artists and her focus was not money,” he added. “Her focus was to work for her happiness.”

Kakkar, who lived in India, was known for her dancing and has more than 1.9 million followers on TikTok. On Thursday, Delhi Police told local news outlet India Today that Kakkar died at her residence on Wednesday night and had been battling depression in the four days prior to her death. Sarin told ET that he was not aware of the Tik Tok star receiving any online threats.

The manager also spoke about Kakkar’s death to India Today on Thursday, saying, “I had a word with her last night for a new project and she sounded normal… This must be due to something personal…work wise she was doing well.”

“Me and my company Fame Experts manage lots of artists and Siya was a bright talent,” he continued. “I am heading to her home in Preet Vihar.”

Sarin’s management company posted a smiling picture of Kakkar on Thursday on Instagram and mourned her death.

“Rest in peace @siya_kakkar 💔,” the post reads. “We will always miss an artist like you. May God give all the strength to her family.”

Prince Harry Is Having ‘His Toughest Week’ Yet Since Leaving Britain

I posted a story somewhat relating to Prince Harry a week ago.

It seems now he’s again having some mental health issues as described in this article by Diane Clehane for BestLife.

Meghan Markle et al. posing for the camera

As U.S. citizens marked Memorial Day with commemorations of those who served in the military, “it was just another reminder of what Harry has lost,” the insider told me. “While he is enjoying his newfound freedom with Meghan in Los Angeles, he desperately misses his military affiliations and the camaraderie he felt being around fellow soldiers representing the Queen and the U.K. at various events.”

Harry has confided in friends that he “misses the camaraderie” of life in the Armed Forces, where he served for 10 years, including two tours of Afghanistan. Earlier this year, according to The Telegraph, the prince told friends he “cannot believe” what happened during the Megxit negotiations, which forced him to give up his military affiliations when the Sussexes decided to step back as senior royals and leave the U.K.

According to the terms of the agreement, Harry was made to relinquish his roles as Captain General of the Royal Marines, Honorary Air Force Commandant of the Royal Air Force Base Honington, and Honorary Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Naval Commands’ Small Ships and Diving.

“In some ways, watching ceremonies commemorating Memorial Day from his new home in Los Angeles must have made Harry feel like a man without a country. He could not participate in ceremonies in America but he also knows, when this pandemic is over, he cannot put on a uniform and return to Britain to represent the Queen under the terms of his exit agreement,” said my source. “An important part of his identity has been muted and he is struggling with that.”

I can relate to Harry’s situation as I was not able to march in my city’s Memorial Day parade due to the virus in America. But I know in a few short months it will be the 4th of July and us vets will be out marching…but not Harry, ever again. It must be crushing him. I hope he can resolve his pain and once again proudly wear his uniform with his military buddies.

Another Epidemic–Overdose

Another epidemic plagues the U.S.   55,000  people, die each year due to some form of drug addition.  Here are two reminders that this crises hits not only us regular folks, but also the rich and famous.

Actor Logan Williams, who played a young Barry Allen on CW’s The Flash and also appeared in Hallmark Channel’s When the Heart Calls, died Thursday of an overdose of fentanyl.  He was 16.

a young girl standing in front of a curtain © Liane Hentscher/The CW

Speaking to the New York Post,  Marlyse Williams said her young son had a three-year battle with addiction. She hopes by speaking out on it that she can help stem the rising opioid crisis, where teen mortality rates continue to rise.


The opioid crises also claimed the life of another young man, Beckett Cypher, Melissa Etheridge’s son with her former partner Julie Cypher. He was 21.

photo credit: Chris DELMAS , AFP

“Today I joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction,” the statement from Etheridge said. “My son Beckett, who was just 21, struggled to overcome his addiction and finally succumbed to it today.”


This craziness must end.  We have a mental health crises in the U.S. made much worse by the existing pandemic.  Enough of the millions of dollars that are handed out to NPR and the Kennedy Center.  Enough talk of millions going to Planned Parenthood.  We need a comprehensive mental health program starting in our schools.  It will cost many millions for a program of this scope to succeed.  We have the money, but it’s going to organizations with political clout.  Enough already !



Can you teach students to be happy? Colleges are trying.

After three years at the University of Pennsylvania, Brielle Weiner has perfected the one-sentence introduction she gives in every new class: a 21-year-old senior majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Wellesley, Mass.

But this semester in a course called The Pursuit of Happiness, she was forced to try something new: an introductory anecdote that showed her at her best.

Weiner spoke about how caring for her 95-year-old grandmother, who came to live with their family eight years ago, forced her to grow as a person.

“It’s not often that I go into details about this story to anyone,” she said, “let alone a complete stranger.”

That’s the point of the assignment, said James Pawelski, professor of the course. It forces students to build deeper connections with each other, he said.

The course is the first large-scale class at Penn to focus on the practice of positive psychology, the scientific study of what goes well in life and how to cultivate more of it. Nearly 200 students are enrolled – double a typical lecture course.

It comes at a time when universities across the country are desperate for new ways to improve mental health on campus. A 2018 study found college students are reporting increasing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for the eighth year in a row. While many colleges, including Penn, have hired more counselors and increased counseling center hours, some are wondering if there’s more to be done. Can they stop the problem before it begins? Teach students to be more resilient, mentally healthier, maybe even happier?

“Happiness isn’t one size fits all. We can’t just dole it out to everybody.” Pawelski said. “Our goal in class is to explore the pursuit of happiness together.”

The course encourages students to try meditation or journaling, and teaches them to build stronger relationships, which are known to boost happiness.

The introduction that Weiner practiced with her classmates embodied two core concepts of positive psychology: emphasizing individual strengths and building human connections.

“It made me think, ‘I know who you are. I know something important to you,’ ” Weiner said. “Now if I pass you on campus, I’m definitely going to say hi.”

More than a decade of research has shown that teaching youth resilience and positive psychology can reduce and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety, lower stress, and promote wellbeing. It can also improve grades.

Similar courses at Harvard and Yale drew more than 1,000 students each, becoming the most popular courses in each university’s history.

Other schools are trying similar initiatives, though on a smaller scale. Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University have been offering courses on positive psychology for more than 10 years, but they are focused more on the field than application, and are often aimed at psychology majors.

Temple University has created a Resiliency Resource Center with tools for students to use their own strengths to address depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflict. Saint Joseph’s University offers weekly mindfulness sessions, and Drexel University is planning to add mindfulness training to freshmen orientation.

“It’s important that wellness not be thought of as something merely important for mentally ill students,” Pawelski said.


Martin Seligman, known as “the father of positive psychology,” founded the Penn Positive Psychology Center in 2003. He and Pawelski started the Masters of Positive Psychology program the same year, the first graduate degree in the field. The center also conducts large-scale resilience training for the U.S. Army.

Yet Penn was years behind other schools in offering a large-scale positive psychology class for all undergraduates.

“Penn is where positive psych began, but in undergrad, at least, no one uses these resources,” said Armghan Ahmad, a senior economics major and currently in the Pursuit of Happiness class.

Headed into an investment banking job after graduation, Ahmad knows he will have long hours and lots of stress. “I want to learn the mindset and small habits I can commit myself to in a consistent manner to boost happiness,” he said.

Penn previously offered a smaller positive psychology course focused on theory, but the new course has a greater emphasis on application.

On the first day of class, students were asked to pretend they were meeting people while walking around New York City. First they introduced themselves to people who were not interested in meeting them. Then to powerful individuals, like CEOs. And finally to a friend they hadn’t seen in five years.

“Each time it got progressively more enjoyable to introduce yourself,” said Jake Singer, a sophomore business major.

The realization has prompted him to change his daily interactions. At a recent visit to the Apple Store, he made sure to look the salesperson in the eye and smile. He asked how their day was going.

“That felt nice instead of just going there for the purpose of getting my phone fixed and leaving,” Singer said.


Down the hall from Temple University’s counseling center is a room with dim lighting and soothing music. Colored mandalas and other art projects called “zen doodles” decorate the wall. iPods loaded with meditation apps are placed near massage chairs.

This is the Resiliency Resource Center (RRC), established seven years ago to complement individual and group therapy provided in the counseling center. It’s meant to help students take charge of their own mental health.

While it’s run through the counseling center, it’s not limited to students with mental illness.

“It can be as severe as PTSD and bipolar or just someone wanting to communicate better with their roommate,” said Brandon LaBarge, assistant coordinator of the RRC.

Up to 20 students come through on a given day, with nearly 800 students using the center last semester, LaBarge said.

Ilana Stern, a senior psychology major, first came to the RRC a few weeks into seeing a therapist for anxiety. She used the Muse meditation headband, one of the most popular items the center offers.

It measures brain waves and signals to students when their minds are calm, neutral, or active. The longer they stay calm, the app rewards them with points.

Stern found the experience empowering.

“Of course I do things my therapist tells me to,” she said, “But it was fulfilling and rewarding to know I can help myself too.”

That’s the idea behind a group LaBarge runs in the RRC. It’s called mindfulness-based strengths practice. Up to 10 students come together for eight weekly sessions to learn how they can use their own character strengths to cope with problems and increase happiness.

The program began in fall 2017, and has since grown to two eight-week sessions per semester to accommodate the demand.

Students take a character strength survey, which ranks them on 24 inner strengths that positive psychology says every individual possesses in varying degrees. The strengths range from creativity and honesty to gratitude and humor.

The sessions are then spent helping students find ways to use those strengths to improve their lives.

Zainab Nyazie, a senior psychology major who participated in a drop-in version of the group, was initially upset to learn one of her top character strengths was forgiveness.

“Does that mean I’m a pushover?” she said.

But through the program, Nyazie learned to use the strength to resolve roommate conflicts and also forgive herself.

“They start to learn they’re not their depression, they’re not their anxiety, they’re not their chemistry homework,” LaBarge said. “It brings perspective back to who the person is and how their character can help them deal with this.”

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