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Healthy habits that will keep your mind sharp

The brain, like any good machine, needs care, attention and maintenance to stay healthy and work better.

Lifestyle choices and behaviours have a huge impact on your brain health. As we age, some people lose confidence in their mental abilities, but you can actively do something to improve your memory, focus and thinking capacity.

Whether you’re in your thirties, forties, fifties or even sixties, you can slow your cognitive decline and boost your brainpower. These are a few of the most promising ways to preserve your brain health and stay sharp as you age.

Play it safe with your ears

Your cognitive health can decline if you start losing your sense of hearing. Hearing loss can trigger the loss of the brain’s grey matter, according to one study. “We found that individuals with hearing impairment compared to those with normal hearing had accelerated volume declines in the whole brain and regional volumes in the right temporal lobe,” the authors said.

“There is ample evidence linking hearing loss to changes in cognitive ability, particularly when listeners are faced with the task of understanding speech that is acoustically or linguistically challenging,” says researchers Arthur Wingfield and Jonathan E Peelle.

Extra strain on your ears can cause more harm in the future. Whatever your age, it pays to take extra care of your ears — don’t expose it too much noise or stimulation.

“Over 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss as a result of exposure to unsafe levels of recreational noise, according to a recent World Health Organisation report,” writes Catherine De Lange of New Scientist.

When the rest of the world gets too distracting, it’s tempting to pop in your earbuds, crank up your favourite tunes, and close yourself off to focus better. If you consistently blast your music too loudly, you can slowly cause harm to your hearing and your brain.

Limit or avoid exposure to loud noises. The louder the sound and the longer you listen to it, the more likely it is to cause damage to your hearing.

Always aim to take regular breaks during the course of the day to give your ears a much-needed rest.

Make time to build meaningful social relationships

Humans are social creatures — making time for meaningful interaction with friends, family and colleagues challenge us to try new experiences.

“Research has shown that by interacting with others, we actually train our brains. Social motivation and social contact can help to improve memory formation and recall and protects the brain from neurodegenerative diseases” writes Medical News Today.

Social interaction doesn’t just boost our mood and reduce stress, it feeds our brains. Socialisation can encourage healthy behaviours like walking, playing games and learning new physical sports — which are great for your brain.

Socialising can allow us to get out of our own heads and gain fresh insights about our immediate environment or the world around us.

Social activities can also make you happier and improve your outlook in life — it’s not just about having fun — it’s about keeping your brain healthy.

Tap into your inner kid and start enjoying challenging games

Games have been called “a waste of time,” at best, and “evil” at worst.

When played in moderation, games are not only fun, but they provide various benefits that can make you a mentally stronger person.

A 2014 study showed doing the crossword “delayed onset of accelerated memory decline by 2.54 years.”

Many games require you to take in information, analyze, and make decisions. In many ways, these are important cognitive skills.

While we might not realize it, games are a great way to challenge yourself and develop critical thinking skills, especially if you keep moving on to new challenges.

“In fact, games allow people to exercise their minds, develop social skills, and in some cases, build up hand-eye coordination and physical fitness,” says Neal Taparia, Founder of Solitaired, a new initiative that connects classic games with brain training.

Touting the mental benefits of the game, an 89-year-old doctor from West Bloomfield, Michigan, recently said, “It’s the intellectual challenge, the problem-solving satisfaction, that makes the bridge so attractive.”

Games like scrabble, chess and even strategy games can also relieve stress, boost your well-being and feelings of accomplishment.