Learning new skills, staying active and working the memory are integral to maintaining healthy brain function.

As our world’s technology rapidly develops, we find there are all sorts of companies touting memory-boosting games, music and apps. But do they really work? Recent research has suggested that while keeping your mind working is beneficial, there are some brain games and activities that improve cognition better than others.

In order to keep your brain function up to snuff, it helps to understand the changes human brains experience as time passes. To begin with, our brain functions best when we exercise it, much like the rest of our body. However, as we age the flow in our blood vessels slows and thus lessens the growth rate of capillaries, which are essential for transferring oxygen and nutrients to tissues in our body. Capillaries also round up carbon dioxide waste, which is returned to our veins and then is eventually exhaled. Additionally, communication between neurons becomes less efficient due to loss of important white matter in our brains. Lower-functioning neurons can cause a host of problems such as difficulty balancing, memory loss, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Luckily, there is much research that details ways to help keep these issues at bay as you age. A study published in the journal Psychological Science showed that while it is important to continue being active, eating healthfully and getting enough sleep – just those activities may not be enough. The study found that learning a new, relatively difficult skill is one of the most important methods for maintaining a high-functioning brain. In the study, 221 participants ages 60 to 90 were assigned to participate in a specific task for 15 hours a week over the course of three months. Some learned how to quilt or use Photoshop while others stayed home and completed activities such as listening to classical music or doing a puzzle.

The study’s results confirmed that just being active was not as effective and that participation in an activity that stimulates various parts of brain including long-term memory, working memory and high-level cognition is paramount. Another study published in the journal Neurology found that a test group of 70-year-old Scottish men and women who worked intellectually-demanding jobs requiring flexibility, focus, problem-solving and social interaction had higher brain function and better memory recall than those who did not have such jobs.

Though it’s still important to continue those daily activities that keep us active, healthy and work our memories, we must also challenge our brains. Perhaps an introduction to watercolors class might be of interest – taking such a class involves focus, attention to detail and can help create or strengthen neural pathways. Or maybe learning how a new technology works is your game. Whatever your interests may be, take the skills you have and build upon them to learn something new or develop an entirely new set of skills. Your brain will remember to thank you for it later.