3 easy ways to keep a sharp mind

Many of us have met people who are in their 90s and still sharp as a tack.

They may have the right genes that make staying sharp come naturally, just as some people are tall and some folks have curly hair.

But you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the lucky gene club to remain mentally alert into your old age. Evidence suggests we can develop habits that can enhance our cognitive abilities. And you don’t have to wait until you’re a senior citizen to start. Here are three habits that don’t require any special equipment, just motivation and a bit of self-discipline:

Exercise is good for your brain

Exercising your body can boost your brain health.

In a study that compared a group of senior citizens who walked for 30 minutes three times a week with seniors who were sedentary, the walkers actually increased the size of their hippocampus — the part of the brain that plays an important role in moving short-term memory to long-term memory.

Never stop playing

Playing games can help you to keep a sharp mind. Challenges like bridge, sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles are opportunities to strategize and solve problems. Games also give us social engagement. When we play games with others, we have to keep track of whose turn it is and think ahead to our next move.

Engage in activities that use both sides of your brain

You can use both sides of your brain when learning a new language, practicing a musical instrument or playing a round of chess or checkers. These are all activities where you look at something, thus stimulating the holistic, creative, artistic, color-oriented right side of your brain, and then respond with the left side of your brain, which is logical, orderly, practical and thinks ahead.

If you have a family history of dementia, do not allow that to stop you in your tracks. If you are older and sometimes can’t come up with the right word, don’t give up.

We can adopt good cognitive habits at any age. I started running at 35. Now I’m 61, and I run three to five miles several times a week. I started running because it was a great stress reliever, a time to clear away the cobwebs. Now, I keep running because it also sends oxygen-rich blood to my brain, giving me a better chance to stay sharp.

My husband was a rocket scientist for 38 years, and I can tell you that these practices are not rocket science.

We have the tools to live healthier longer. We are the ones who decide to use them to make positive changes in our lives.