Some folks find they have more “senior moments” as they age, and 69% of older adults say losing mental function is a top fear. Fortunately, there are fun – scientifically-proven – ways to strengthen your mind!

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine monitoring 470 older Americans for five years found that those who played board games several times a week with others enjoyed a 74% lower risk of developing dementia. Other protective activities: playing a musical instrument (69% lower risk), and doing crosswords regularly (47% lower risk). Scientists believe such activities help maintain mental fitness by stimulating connections between brain cells – and building up new brain cells that replace those that die.

Adopt brain calisthenics you enjoy so you’ll want to stick with them. Start a poker club, learn to recognize birds or trees, memorize songs or poems, take up painting, or tackle complicated recipes. Don’t neglect physical exercise, which can actually increase the size of the brain, countering the natural brain shrinkage that begins around middle age. Vary activities to maintain mental sharpness – and include dancing in the mix, as it offered a 76% reduction in dementia risk.

Bonus: To replenish mental and physical energy, rely on  blueberries, blackberries,strawberries, raspberries and spinach.

Published August 1, 2009