Exercising your mind and ways to improve memory

Your brain isn't a muscle, but it's a lot like a muscle in at least one important way: If you want it to stay strong, you need to give it some exercise. Exercise your brain is one of the best ways to improve memory, after all.

Now, I'm not asking you to put weights on your head. That would be silly (not to mention dangerous).

No, the real way to get your brain to do some heavy lifting is by taking up a hobby or diversion you've never done before -- something that forces you to think and learn in new ways to improve memory.

And if you take up a stimulating new hobby today, you could see real improvements in your memory in as little as three months, according to one new study.

In the study, one set of seniors was given crossword puzzles and sent on field trips, among other activities, while a second set of seniors was asked to take up photography, quilting or both for about 15 hours a week.

After three months, the seniors who tried photography and quilting did much better on memory tests than the seniors given crossword puzzles and sent on field trips.

But I don't think it's because crossword puzzles and field trips are bad for the mind. It's that they're familiar -- and because they're familiar, they don't give the brain the same type of workout as something entirely new.

It's like going to the gym, but then using weights that are far too light.

So if you've been sticking to the same old hobbies and habits -- or if your idea of a mental workout is the Sunday crossword puzzle -- it's time to move up to a higher weight and learn different ways to improve memory.

It's time to take up something new and stimulating.

If you're looking for some ideas, check the bulletin board at your local community hall, senior center or church. While the study looked at photography and quilting, I'm sure anything new and stimulating -- anything that gets you thinking and learning -- will do the trick.