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Sharpen Your Mind With These Mental Workouts

5. Do a jigsaw puzzle

Anytime you engage several senses at the same time, learning will be more robust. Doing jigsaw puzzles enlists visual, spatial and tactile areas of the brain, as you shift focus from one small corner to the larger picture. Dancing also challenges several brain areas at once: You're learning new steps and moving in time to the music while interacting with others.

6. Go back to school

Although dementia is an equal opportunity disease, many studies suggest that people with higher levels of education build more cognitive reserve and so may be better able to stave off, or compensate for, symptoms. Experts aren't sure why, but lack of education is a strong predictor of cognitive decline.

Not interested in a degree program? Check out free or low-cost lectures offered at many universities or community colleges as well as online courses (education-portal.com; coursera.org).

7. Find a new way home

If you drive home the same way every day, you're not thinking about what you're doing — you're on autopilot. So take a new route, says Stanford University psychology professor Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., "and you [will] tease your brain in a good way."

8. Take a tech break

In our high-tech world, where there's a gadget and app for everything, it's much easier to hit speed dial on your phone than try to remember your kid's cell phone number.

But like any skill, memory improves with practice, and using your brain in different ways throughout the day keeps it strong. So next time do it in your head. Nix the calculator on your phone and figure out the tip on your restaurant bill in your mind or on a napkin.

Practice memorizing important phone numbers, addresses and account passwords. Rely less on lists. Rather than jotting down the things you want to pick up after work, try remembering them instead.

One trick: Create a mental image — the more visually striking the better. If you need to get eggs, a collar for your dog and your black heels back from the cobbler, imagine your pup in heels with a nice smooth egg dangling from a fresh collar.

Similarly, don't immediately Google every fact you can't remember instantly. Give yourself a moment to retrieve the memory first.

9. Get a library card

According to a recent study in Neurology, reading stimulates the growth of new neurons and synapses in the brain and shores up the ones you have. Study participants who had a higher level of reading skills performed much better on cognitive tests than those who didn't, regardless of their age or number of years of schooling.

Reading magazines and newspapers, as well as books, improves concentration, focus and memory, and gives you something to talk about with others.

Margery D. Rosen is a New York City-based writer specializing in health and psychology.

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