22 November, 2019

Brain Health

As we get older, we tend to hear more about how to improve our physical health. However, we don’t always hear about our brain and how our cognitive abilities can be maintained or sharpened. The science on brain fitness is constantly evolving. Some studies indicate that approximately 30% of individuals 70 and older exhibit problems with memory.1 However, there are many activities that evidence suggests can help us to maintain and enhance mental activity, which is especially important as we age. Here are some tips and strategies for keeping your mind active: 

Sleep, diet and exercise

First, the basics: the expression “sound body, sound mind” is more than just an old saying. The links between physical and mental health are well known, so an important first step is to look at your daily habits. Remember that older adults usually need as much sleep as younger adults,2 and it’s important to practice “sleep hygiene,” or enhancing the quality of your sleep through scheduling, limiting the use of electronic devices and other strategies.3 Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen are also tied to healthy brain activity. Remember that in all health matters, it is important to seek the advice of a health professional, such as your family physician.

Keep up your social interactions

Regular contact with adults outside the home is also positively correlated to brain health4, but sometimes this seemingly everyday activity falls to the wayside during a variety of scenarios, including retirement. If your closest family is still within reasonable ground transport distance, set up a regular scheduled (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) gathering such as a family meal, to maintain regular contact and build in predictability and routine. You can do the same for close friends as well, especially if you are all fellow retirees. If geographic distance is an issue, explore technological alternatives such as Skype that allow for face-to-face meetings despite distance barriers.

Board games: far from boring

Is Monopoly making a comeback? Evidence suggests that board games, both classic and new, are increasing in popularity again amongst many age groups. Furthermore, studies have shown that board games that require analysis (e.g., Chess, Mastermind, Clue/Cluedo) can improve mental acuity.5 While these games are often also available in online versions, playing against an opponent face-to-face also fulfills the valuable necessity of social interaction. If you want to play an in-person game, but there are no interested parties in your immediate circle, seek out options in your community (local groups, board game cafés). You might be surprised at what you find.

Take a class

Is there an interest you always wished to pursue, but just never found the time? If you suddenly find yourself with more spare time (e.g., through retirement or as an empty-nester), a class in your community is a good place to start. Classes are typically economical and can range from arts and recreational-level sports to technological literacy.

Brain-training puzzles

Numerous studies have linked brain teasers like Sudoku, and crossword puzzles to positive brain health.6 Other ways of giving your brain a solo workout can include jigsaw puzzles, word searches and memory games. These brain trainers often come in both online and physical versions, depending on your preference. However, when it comes to using electronic media, remember that moderation is key.


These are just some of the activities associated with improving brain fitness and keeping your mind active. As Canadians, we will likely be seeing more attention paid to this subject as the average age of the population increases and people live longer. If brain fitness interests you, keeping up with the latest studies and insights can be another great way to exercise your mind while keeping yourself informed.



1. Carl Sherman, Patrick Griffith, Laura Reynolds, Successful Aging & Your Brain, The Dana Foundation, 2017.

2. Jennifer Dixon, “Do Seniors Need Less Sleep?” WebMD, July 22, 2018.

3. Sleep.org, “How to Sleep Well During Retirement.”

4. “6 Pillars of Brain Health,” Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. 

5. “Can Playing Games Make You Smarter?”, Examined Existence. 

6. Michelle Darrisaw, “People Who Regularly Play Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles Have Sharper Brains, New Study Finds,” O: The Oprah Magazine, May 16, 2019.