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Exercise isn't just good for your body, it's also good -- and necessary -- for your brain. Just as your body requires exercise to stay in shape and maintain proper health, your brain also requires exercise to keep fit. Keeping your brain stimulated and active with physical and mental exercise can provide a host of benefits and possibly help prevent age-related cognitive decline, according to the Franklin Institute.
Regular physical activity is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. But what you may not have realized is that physical activity also provides a number of cognitive benefits. According to a study published in the October 2011 issue of the journal "Physiology and Behavior," chronic and acute exercise helps cognitive functioning and improves memory by increasing the flow of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that acts on the neurons of your central and peripheral nervous systems.
Using your nondominant hand to perform various tasks is a beneficial way to exercise your brain. According to a study published in the June 1999 issue of the journal "Brain Research," writing with your nondominant hand stimulates the somatosensory cortex, the part of your brain responsible for somatic sensation, responding to visual stimuli and movement planning. Other tasks that can produce the same effect include switching the hand you normally use to operate your computer mouse or brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand.
Active visualization -- also known as mental imagery -- exercises can stimulate your brain and enhance creativity. According to psychologist Shelley Carson in her book "Your Creative Brain," mental imagery activates the perceptual parts of your brain typically involved in processing sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. You can use a guided visualization audio program or simply relax, close your eyes and picture yourself in a peaceful, serene setting, imagining as vividly as possible all the sensory stimuli you encounter.
Brain Teasers and Mental Puzzles
Doing brain teasers and puzzles and engaging in mentally stimulating games may help exercise your brain and prevent cognitive decline. A study published in the March-April 2001 issue of the "American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias" found that a simple cognitive activity such as bingo helped improve short-term memory, concentration, word retrieval and word recognition in older adult study participants with Alzheimer's disease. Crossword puzzles, word searches and Sudoku are other examples of games that can help exercise your brain and improve cognitive function.
Learn Something New
Learning a new activity or skill can help maintain and improve the functioning of less frequently used areas of the brain and encourage brain growth, according to Drs. William Rodman Shankle and Daniel Amen in their book "Preventing Alzheimer's." Learn a new language, sport or hobby or take a class. Stimulating your brain with a new activity regularly can help keep you mentally fit and restore cognitive vitality.