Mental fitness: Take your brain to the gym

It’s no secret that a healthy diet and frequent exercise play an important role in keeping your body healthy. What you might not realize is that a healthy lifestyle can help improve your mental fitness as well.

Just as working out in a gym can make your muscles stronger, a vigorous mental workout can help strengthen your brain. Doing varied, challenging “brain work” can help keep your mental skills and memory sharp throughout your life.

And believe it or not, a healthy brain is important for a healthy mouth. There’s a strong two-way relationship between oral health and mental health. Poor oral health has been linked to dementia, and conversely dementia has been linked to poor oral health.

So, ready to get your brain in shape? Here are four great ways to stay mentally fit — no matter your age.




1. Discover something new

Picking up a new skill can help improve and maintain your memory. Here are a few you might want to try:

• Learn a new language.

• Find a new and challenging hobby, such as playing a musical instrument, writing computer code, model building or something else that will push your brain to work hard.

•  Try something that pulls you out of your comfort zone, such as public speaking.


2. Read as much as you can

A good book can be more than a great story. It can also be a terrific mental workout and may even help your brain function more effectively. Here are some tips for making your reading experience even better:

• Take it outside! Find a nice spot on your lawn, your patio or in a park to read. Don’t forget to bring a healthy snack.

• If you can, read with your kids or grandchildren. Books about the Tooth Fairy can help teach them about good oral health habits.

• Wind down with a book before bed. Lowering your stress level can bring you peace of mind and reduce your chance of oral health problems such as teeth grinding and mouth sores.


3. Exercise your body, too

Staying physically active is a win-win — it’s great for your body and your mind. Exercise can improve your memory and ability to think, and it releases chemicals in your body that help your brain thrive. Here are some fun ways to get your heart pumping:

•  Exercise for 30 minutes a day, whether it’s an intense workout with weights or a low-impact walk around the block — any activity is fine!

•  Find an activity that puts your hand-eye coordination to the test, such as table tennis or basketball.

•  If you don’t have time for one long workout, why not do several short ones? While you work, get up from your computer once an hour to move around. Do some stretches or take a quick walk.


4. Choose nutritious foods

There’s evidence that eating a healthy diet — and avoiding an unhealthy one — can have a positive effect on your brain. In particular, the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods high in unsaturated fats, such as fish and olive oil, has been linked to lower rates of both dementia and memory loss.

• Fruit lovers, rejoice! It turns out that berries are “berry” good for brain function. Oranges and other vitamin C-rich fruits can also help. For a tasty treat that’s full of brain fuel, try this yummy banana-berry ice cream recipe.

• Meat eaters, lament. A diet heavy in red meats high in saturated fats can damage blood vessels in the brain and has been linked to memory loss and decreased cognitive ability. Try fish or a plant-based meat substitute instead. 

• Try dark chocolate when you're craving something sweet. Cocoa beans may help improve memory and your ability to process information. And because chocolate melts in your mouth quickly, it’s less likely to cause cavities than hard candies or gummies.

So remember, fitness is more than just building muscle and watching your weight. By taking steps to make sure your brain is active and healthy, you can help ensure that remains stays sharp — and your teeth look great — for years to come.