The human body is a marvelous creation and the crowing glory is the brain. The brain is not just what runs the body, it is what makes us unique individuals. The brain is a muscle that needs to be stretched and worked and cared for or it will waste away.
When you research “Exercise for better cognitive function” you find two different categories of information. The first is that your brain benefits from whole body physical activity; aerobics and strength training. The second is that the brain should be worked specifically by doing various thinking exercises that your math and English teachers would be proud of. When it comes to keeping the brain sharp doing some of both would be a wise decision.
We all know that taking a walk in the fresh air clears our head. Is it the walk? Is it the air? Probably yes to both but finding scientific proof is difficult. What science has shown through the use of MRI is that neurons, cells found in the brain that control basic functions like movement and breathing, increase in number after just a few weeks of regular exercise. They also found that in the higher function areas of the brain, the memory and thinking areas, people who were more fit had a higher density. Anecdotically this says that getting out there and exercising regularly will help your brain work better.
Consult your doctor about what level of activity you should start with and a plan to increase it over time. You should try and have some aerobic exercise where your heart starts pounding, and, some strength exercise where you feel it the next day. These don’t need to be dull gym affairs you can go for a walk with friends, dance, play a game or go for a bike ride. If you are chair or bed bound there are still ways to exercise but you might need to do some research. No matter what exercise you do it will make you feel better mentally and physically.
Purely mental exercises are harder to scientifically prove, but, better safe then sorry. Cognition is most often broken up into five subcategories; memory, visual-spatial skills, language, attention and executive function. To exercise these things in your head you can play various games on computers, puzzle games, or simply think hard and challenge yourself in day-to-day situations. For example, have a (trusted) friend take something from a room and then you look and see what is missing – this tests memory and attention. You are constantly using your brain, look for opportunities to use it just a bit more to keep it in shape.
Combining both styles of exercise is a way to get the most for your time. Go for a walk, and, listen to an audio book. Do a crossword puzzle while listening to music and riding a stationary bike. You are probably doing some of these already and if you put your brain into it and make it a game the possible combinations are endless.
Someday science might come up with a pill to help keep mental sharpness or prevent memory loss but until then do it the old fashioned way.