Cognitive calisthenics can be key to healthy aging

Crossword puzzles or chess matches may feel like fun, but they also are potential ways to exercise your brain.

“There is a lot of information in the popular press about the need to do special mental training to get brain benefits, but what we know from the research is that staying engaged in activities you enjoy is something that you may be more likely to benefit from over the long-term,” said Gene Alexander, a Professor in the Clinical and Cognition & Neural Systems Programs in the Department of Psychology, and in the Neuroscience and Physiological Sciences Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Gene Alexander UA Dept. of Psychology

Dr. Gene Alexander
UA Dept. of Psychology

“Cognitive stimulation is a lot like physical exercise: You need to find things you enjoy that will fit into your daily schedule so you will continue doing them. Reading, going to lectures, visiting museums, doing puzzles – these activities are not only enjoyable, but potentially helpful in maintaining brain health.”

Alexander, who is co-directing the third annual conference on successful aging, will speak along with Professor Lee Ryan about the latest research on maintaining mental fitness. Tucson Medical Center is also serving as co-sponsor of the event.

“We really hope to share information with the community that comes from the scientific work, but also is information people can integrate in their lives in a useful way – essentially, providing practical suggestions and ideas that people can use to implement these positive changes.”

So don’t worry if a new trend suggests mental calisthenics with calculus exercises, and you aren’t math-oriented. “Being engaged in activities you enjoy that are mentally stimulating appears to not only help maintain how we function, but it may help your mood and overall well-being as well.”

ACOSAThe theme of the conference is about finding and maintaining balance in life, from physical balance to emotional, social and mental well-being.

The Annual Conference on Successful Aging takes place Friday, Feb. 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tucson- Reid Park. Registration fee is $50. More information is available at .

 Additional resources for older adults:

TMC for Seniors provides expert care and resources to older adults, no matter their unique cognitive, physical or emotional situation. TMC offers a strong network of senior services, including lectures and seminars, Medicare counseling, volunteer care coaches, and support for caregivers and those living with dementia, stroke or chronic disease.

The TMC Health Assessment Clinic is available to older adults seeking a comprehensive evaluation of their health needs. The new clinic can serve those who have been in the hospital or who just want to know how to live as healthfully as possible with multiple needs.

TMC Geropsychiatric Center at Handmaker is now open to address age-related mental health challenges. The Geropsychiatric Center offers a short-term inpatient program for behavioral disorders related to aging, and specializes in serving older adults who may be experiencing major depression, anxiety, delusions or suicidal expressions, as well as cognitive impairment, such as dementia.

Compassionate End of Life Care helps us live our final days with dignity, support and comfort. TMC offers hospice care at its Peppi’s House inpatient facility, as well in the patients’ homes. TMC also offers palliative care throughout the hospital to alleviate pain or stress, and educational support in developing living will and other advance directives.

More information on TMC for Seniors is available at, or by calling 324-1960.


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