15 Mental Exercises That Can Decrease Your Dementia Risk

Dementia of all types impacts millions of people around the world. In the United States alone, more than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Though there are many things you can do to decrease your risk, you may be forgetting to give your brain the added attention it needs.

Here are 15 activities that can stimulate your brain and target certain risk factors that might lower your dementia risk later in life.

1. Gardening

Old woman gardening

Old woman gardening | Lubilub/iStock/Getty Images

Gardening can turn into a great workout, both physically and mentally. One study suggested that gardening could lower your risk of developing dementia because of its many physical and psychological health benefits.

Next: You can do this activity while watching TV or sitting around with friends.

2. Learning to knit, sew, or crochet

Woman knitting

Woman knitting | Alexey_R/iStock/Getty Images

Making a blanket or quilt can slow the progression of dementia in people who already have it. You may be able to use the same activities to hold it off. Research suggests activities involving needlework, such as knitting, might also help delay the onset of dementia.

Next: This stress-reducing activity is both relaxing and good for your brain.

3. Meditating regularly

Old couple with yoga mat

Old couple with yoga mat | LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images

Meditation, whichever form of it you find works best for you, can have a huge impact on brain health over time. Some studies suggest its stress-relieving powers can even reduce key dementia risk factors like cognitive decline.

Next: Play games that really make you think.

4. Completing crossword puzzles

Crossword Puzzle and Pencil

Crossword puzzle and pencil | Danielvfung/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t want dementia? Try doing a crossword puzzle. To be clear, doing a daily crossword won’t guarantee you’ll avoid developing dementia. This activity is just another tool to keep your mind sharp and add to the number of things you’re doing to reduce your risk of getting the disease.

Next: This is an activity you can complete in small pieces over time.

5. Jigsaw puzzles work, too

Jigsaw Puzzle

Pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. | Verdateo/iStock/Getty Images

Jigsaw puzzles require you to use your memory and logic skills, even if you take your time and only put together a few pieces in one sitting (depending on the size of the puzzle, of course). They’re another activity you can do daily to exercise your brain.

Next: You probably have some of these in storage somewhere. Dust them off!

6. Playing board games with family and friends

Scrabble game

Scrabble game | Rena-Marie/iStock/Getty Images

Not into puzzles? Board games like Scrabble also force you to exercise your brain while getting in touch with your competitive side. The added bonus is its social benefit. People with active social lives are less likely to develop dementia in their 60s and beyond.

Next: Try a memory exercise that actually works.

7.┬áReciting presidents’ names or state capitals

Old Books

Old books | Thomaguery/iStock/Getty Images

Certain memory “games” might be more effective than others. Try memorizing and reciting facts in your free time to keep your brain active. This could involve simple math equations, the names of state capitals, or the names of past U.S. presidents.

Next: If you’re musically inclined, this exercise might work in your favor.

8. Playing a musical instrument

Woman in red playing Vioin

Woman in red playing violin. | Bowie15/iStock/Getty Images

Reading and playing music is its own unique skill set. Playing an instrument is something you can start to learn at any time, so if you’ve always wanted to be able to play the piano or the violin, doing so could help keep your brain active and your mind at ease.

Next: Could you name the streets around your neighborhood without looking at a map?

9. Relying less on your GPS

Woman looking at map

Woman looking at map | Goxy89/iStock/Getty Images

These days, it’s easy to plug your destination into your phone, or even your car, and rely on a computer to show you the way. To keep your brain a little bit more active, whether you’re driving or walking, try memorizing the streets around where you live so you’re forced to use a little “mental muscle.”

Next: Think you already know how to cook? Try doing this anyway.

10. Taking a cooking class

Seniors cooking

Seniors cooking | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

Even if you’ve been cooking for years, taking a cooking class couldn’t hurt. You might learn new recipes or techniques you can use to show off to your family and friends. Also, learning in any type of classroom environment is sure to benefit your brain, especially in older age.

Next: This activity is both fun and beneficial to your health.

11. Spending time with your young grandkids

Grandparents And Grandchildren

Grandparents And grandchildren | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Several studies have found that amazing things happen when you put older adults and young children in the same room. If you have young grandkids, playing and talking with them might decrease your risk of dementia. Doing this has also been known to benefit people already living with the disease.

Next: This skill could come in handy — and it might benefit your brain.

12. Learning a second language

School Classroom

School classroom | Dongseon_Kim/iStock/Getty Images

It’s not possible to completely prevent dementia — there are some factors that just aren’t under your control. But there are some things you can do to delay the possible onset of the disease, like learning a second (or third, or fourth) language.

Next: Read and discuss topics that make you think critically.

13. Reading books, articles, and more

Old reading

Group of people reading together. | Bowdenimages/iStock/Getty Images

Even if you don’t think you’re much of a reader, joining or starting a book club can expose you to a variety of stories, introduce you to new people, and even decrease your chances of getting dementia. One small study suggested older adults who read regularly may experience a slower decline in cognition.

Next: This might not seem like a mental exercise, but it’s actually one of the best.

14. Engaging in regular physical activity

elderly ladies workout

Group of women working out. | Horsche/iStock/Getty Images

That’s right: Physical exercise also counts as mental exercise. It’s one of many ways you can reduce your dementia risk and improve your mental health at the same time. Just make sure to avoid these potentially dangerous workouts.

Next: This healthy habit is more important than you might realize.

15. Getting plenty of sleep

Old Couple in bed

Old couple in bed. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

This one (hopefully) doesn’t take much effort — but it’s definitely worth it. Poor sleeping habits can increase your dementia risk, so making sure you’re getting enough sleep may have the opposite effect. Sleep is essential for long-term brain health.

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