Get Smart! How to Boost Brain Health for Women 50+

Do women over 50 need different brain and cognitive exercises? If brain games actually work, what are the best exercises to improve memory and cognitive health? These tips will give you lots to think about! The best part is that you get to decide which are exercises and games are the best for your brain. I also included 10 questions women 50 plus ask about boosting memory and improving brain health. Last but not least are three fun, creative ways to relax your mind and relieve the stress of all that thinking.

First, a quip to make you laugh, or at least grimace :-) I hope you laugh, though; laughter increases blood flow to your brain and improves overall health. Laughing might not be a “brain game”, but it is a great way for women of all ages to stay healthy. Here’s the quip from comedian Rita Rudner (who was a 50 year old woman when she said it): “Men forget everything; women remember everything. That’s why men need instant replays in sports. They’ve already forgotten what happened.”

These tips for choosing the right brain games to sharpen memory, improve thinking and increase cognitive health for women 50+ are from brain fitness aficionado Alex Colket, creator of PlayWithYourMind.com. “There is a lot of talk these days about using brain games to train your mind,” he says. “Every month, another study touts the efficacy of brain training and further emphasizes the importance of brain fitness. With this research comes an ever-growing number of brain fitness programs; now, there are thousands of so-called ‘brain games’ available on the internet.”

Is brain training as simple as choosing the right brain games, playing for a few hours, and then conquering the world as a 50 year old woman with a great memory? Nope. Not all brain games – or brains – are equal. Here are Colket’s tips for finding the right brain games and exercises for women over 50, plus important factors to consider.

If you’re a caregiver of someone who is struggling with a cognitive health issue or dementia, read 20 Cheerful Gifts for People With Memory Loss or Dementia.

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Brain Games 

The games you choose and the way you play them affect how beneficial they are. Some exercises and activities sharpen your brain more than others.

1. Find a reputable creator of brain games. Your best bet is to find an online organization dedicated to boosting memory and improving brain health for women 50+, as opposed to just playing games on larger websites.  In most cases, the organizations dedicated to brain exercise are designed more intelligently and are better suited to challenge users in constructive ways. Look for evidence that the game designers know something about women over 50, brain fitness, and neuroscience.

2. Challenge your weaknesses. It’s often more fun to play games that display your skill rather than expose your weaknesses, but just playing towards your strengths is not as beneficial as improving on your weaknesses. Brain games are a great way to challenge yourself in ways that your daily life does not – especially if you actively try to find new ways to improve your memory and thinking skills. A woman over 50 can easily boost brain power simply by immersing herself in new sights, sounds, experiences and tastes.

3. Find a brain game or exercise you like playing. One condition for effective neuroplasticity (the process of making changes in your brain) is attention. If you are playing or participating in something that is not engaging or holding your attention, your brain is far less likely to improve or get stronger.

4. Make sure the brain game gets harder as you get better. Find a game that has adjustable difficulties or progressively gets harder as you improve your memory and thinking skills. It is important that the level of challenge increases proportionately to your skill level. As a woman over 50, you don’t want to waste your time playing a game that is too easy or too hard and thus of no benefit.

5. Avoid playing the same games repeatedly. The more often you do an activity – or play a brain fitness game – the lazier your mind gets. Your brain is so smart it actually learns how and when to go into “sleep” mode (auto pilot, like when you’re driving) so it conserves energy. Your goal when doing cognitive exercises is to keep your brain alert, active, and awake! That’s why you should avoid playing the same brain games repeatedly…even if they’re the right brain exercises for you.

right brain games and exercises
Wooden Brain Game for Adults and Kids

The KINGOU Wooden Puzzle Magic Ball is a Brain Teaser, Toy, and Intelligence Game all rolled into one. It’s a mind puzzle with different levels for adults and kids of all ages; it helps to exercise the brain, develop intelligence, improve problem-solving ability, and relieve stress.

When You Exercise and Improve Your Brain Health…

1. Opt for regular short practices rather than prolonged sessions. Your brain health will improve faster if you play a game for 15 minutes every day versus sitting down and playing for two hours straight. Taking breaks and returning to the cognitive game or activity later helps facilitate the learning process, improves memory, and ensures that your mind stays sharp and attentive throughout the process.

2. When possible, combine brain exercise with physical exercise. It wasn’t my 50th birthday when I bought myself a treadmill desk – I didn’t want to wait that long! I walk while reading, writing, and listening to podcasts (if it’s too cold or rainy to walk outside). Schedule your brain training sessions or games right after your physical exercise, so your brain has plenty of blood and energy. You’ll glean more from the brain games when your mind is alert and ready to learn.

3. Find ways to stay motivated. Some online brain games and programs have a storyline or reward system for measuring progress. I’ve never been into games (and am even less so now that I am a 50 year old woman) but my husband is drawn to games that involve him in some sort of story. If you like brain games, find ones that involve others and their stories. The more motivated you are to learn and make changes, the easier it’ll be to improve your memory and thinking skills. It’s definitely OK to have fun with your brain exercise

5. Remember that exercising your brain like exercising your body. Your lungs, muscles, organs and even your bones need daily exercise. Your brain also needs to be exercised so it stays healthy and strong. The best brain exercise tip for women 50 plus is to do a variety of activities. Keep your brain on her toes by surprising her with new challenges.

399 Games, Puzzles & Trivia Challenges Specially Designed to Keep Your Brain Young – Exercising your brain and cognitive strength is like exercising your body. With the right program, you can keep your brain young, strong, agile, and adaptable. Organized on an increasing scale of difficulty from “Warm-up” to “Merciless,” here are 399 puzzles, trivia quizzes, brainteasers, and word game that are both fun and engaging to play. These are the right brain games, expertly designed to give your brain the kind of workout that stimulates neurogenesis, the process of rejuvenating the brain by growing new brain cells.

How Can I Improve My Brain Health? 10 Frequently Asked Questions

These questions and answers will show you how to fight the typical age-related memory loss that most women over 50 experience…

1. How do “neurobic” exercises improve cognitive health? Certain brain exercises can create new associations between different parts of the brain and reduce memory loss, according to neurobiologist Lawrence Katz of Duke University. Neurobics include getting dressed or showering in the dark, switching what you normally wear on one side to the other (e.g., put your watch or bracelet on your opposite wrist), or even hanging pictures upside down. You can exercise your brain by surprising it with new situations.

2. Does drinking alcohol kill brain cells? The more alcohol you consume, the lower your brain volume becomes. Low brain volume leads to memory loss and poor concentration. Scientists at Wellesley College in Massachusetts found that low to moderate levels of alcohol helps protect your health from cardiovascular disease, but heavy drinking shrinks brains for people of all ages. These researchers define heavy drinking as more than 14 drinks per week, moderate drinking as 8 to 14 drinks per week, and low as less than 7 drinks per week.

4. Are women 50 plus old to sharpen their brain and reduce memory loss? An active brain can slow the mental decline that comes with age. “A lifetime of good mental habits pays off,” says University of Alberta researcher Dr. Dennis Foth. “People who are curious at a young age are more likely to be mentally active and stay active as they age. And we found it’s never too late to start. With a little effort, even people in their 70s and 80s can see dramatic improvements.” Women over 50 might enjoy memorizing poetry, learning a new musical instrument, or taking Spanish or French lessons.

4. Are certain smells good for the brain? “Natural scents such as sandalwood have a direct pathway to the brain, and research shows that some chemical constituents of aromatherapy oils, particularly…sesquiterpenes can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxygen flow to the brain,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, author of Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds: The 4-Week Plan for a Sharper Mind, Better Memory, and Healthier Brain. Extra oxygen increases energy, immune function, positive moods, and learning. Frankincense and sandalwood are particularly effective at increasing oxygen levels in the brain — which will reduce memory loss.

brain games boost brain power

5. How does physical exercise help a 50 year old woman’s brain? Complicated fitness and exercise routines, such as dancing the tango, requires twists and turns that strengthens brain connections. Learning to dance the cha-cha-cha can nourish brain cells, which translates to quick thinking in the real world. “Exercise can protect the brain against environmental toxins by counteracting free radicals and reducing inflammation,” says Schoffro Cook. Physical activity is one of the best ways to promote the growth of new brain cells and reduce memory loss.

6. Does volunteering make me smarter? “Good Samaritans have been found to have lower stress levels and a sense of well-being, factors that add up to better overall health, including brain health,” says Schoffro Cook, author of Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds: The 4-Week Plan for a Sharper Mind, Better Memory, and Healthier Brain. The brain fitness benefits of volunteering include increased mental functioning and better communication skills. The key may be in the “helper’s high” – the sense of calmness and well-being that comes from helping others.

7. How does socializing improve brain health? Talking can make your memory better and improve your thinking skills, says Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. Further, he believes that visiting with a friend or neighbor may be as helpful as doing a crossword puzzle. About his study, he said, “Short-term social interaction lasting for just 10 minutes boosted participants’ intellectual performance as much as engaging in so-called ‘intellectual’ activities for the same amount of time.” Ironically, I was also told that women 50+ become more introverted as they get older.

8. What is the best brain exercise for women over 50? Don’t rely on one specific brain exercise, practice, supplement, or food to increase your brain health. Instead, incorporate different activities into your life. For instance, take a child hiking if you normally spend time with other women 50 plus. Go for a bike ride instead of the usual yoga class. The more you challenge your brain and body, the healthier and stronger they both become, and the less memory loss you’ll face. Also, remember that nutritious food is good for your brain. Strive for variety in the foods you eat.

9. Does sleep improve memory and brain health? Your brain requires huge amounts of energy to function properly; sleep boosts memory and allows your brain to process information. “Though it’s not sexy, the traditional sleep advice is still effective,” says Dr Rachel Morehouse of the Atlantic Sleep Centre. Sleep little – if at all – during the day because naps rob you of sleep at night. Get up and go to bed at set times. Stay active but avoid exercising in the evening because it keeps you awake. Wind down before you go to bed with music or a book. To keep your 50 year old brain fit, enjoy healthy food, eat light meals at night, and avoid caffeine.

10. What are the worst foods for the brain? Pesticides, herbicides, harmful chemicals, food additives, and chemically altered ingredients are the worst brain foods. While it’s not possible to completely eliminate pollution from your environment, you can limit it. Pure products, organic produce, natural fragrances, whole foods, and fresh air will make your memory better and boost your brain health. 

3 Ways to Relax Your Brain and Relieve Stress

Check out these fun, creative stress busters for women 50 plus – because finding the most unusual ways to relax is the best way to deal with everyday stressors.

Here are two starter tips for relieving stress and getting the blood flowing to your brain: wear an eye patch when you’re feeling irritable, and get out your hula hoop! Both will lower your blood pressure and help you stay healthy.

“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath,” says bestselling author and teacher Natalie Goldberg, who was once a 50 year old woman. “Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.”

1. Do the polka (because remembering the steps will boost the right parts of your brain!). “We have a CD called ‘Polka Therapy,’ which was written as a ‘drug-free way to cope with the stress of modern-day life,'” says 55 year old Cheryl on Going Back to School for Women Over 50. “We’ve taken ordinary problems and written polkas about them. We’ve got, for example, the “Road Rage Polka,” the “Pooper Scooper Polka,” and the “Middle-Aged Hip-Hop Polka.” There are many more, and they really are funny. I’m a big believer in humor being one of the biggest stress-relievers in the world.”

2. Remember a moment of laughter and joy from the past. Talk 15 minutes to recall a beautiful experience from your recent or distant past. Reflect on the smells, sounds, tastes, sights and feels of everything around you. This may not be a traditional online brain game – and it’s not proven to be the best way to improve your cognitive health or memory, but it will make you feel great. You may also laugh! And if you’re feeling playful, take a deeper dive into your past. What did you do as a child? Try blowing bubbles, hula-hooping (which also burns calories and tones your core at the same time), bouncing on a mini-trampoline, and riding your bicycle. If you have a difficult problem to solve (a brain game challenge or just life itself), let your brain reflect on it while you play.

3. Do the hokey pokey. “My kids are ages 13, 11, 9, 7, and 4,” says Christina on 137 Things to Do When You’re Bored at Home. “The corona virus and social isolation is extremely stressful on us as a big family! I’m home schooling them all. Before COVID-19 I was operating my business from home. Now I can’t work because the kids are here full-time. Six people in one house 24/7 can get stressful sometimes! Especially when the older kids can’t get the academic help they need and are banging their heads against the table because the math problems are insolvable. We always fall back on the Hokey Pokey! The rule is that everyone in the house has to participate. Everyone. It’s impossible to stay grumpy while shaking your left elbow at everyone! It always ends with us all in a heap on the floor in masses of giggles. That’s what it’s all about!”

I never thought I’d start an article with tips for choosing the best ways to exercise your brain and memory, and end with the Hokey Pokey. I guess that’s what blogging is all about :-)

If you’re too exhausted or unmotivated to play brain games, read How to Be Healthy When You’re Stressed and Depressed. If you have any thoughts about these brain fitness tips – or how to reduce memory loss – please comment below.

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29 thoughts on “Get Smart! How to Boost Brain Health for Women 50+”

  1. New research shows that gingko biloba doesn’t help reduce memory loss:

    Older adults who used the herbal supplement Ginkgo biloba for several years did not have a slower rate of cognitive decline compared to adults who received placebo, according to a new study.

    “Ginkgo biloba is marketed widely and used with the hope of improving, preventing, or delaying cognitive impairment associated with aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer disease,” says Beth E. Snitz, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues. “Indeed, in the United States and particularly in Europe, Gingko biloba is perhaps the most widely used herbal treatment consumed specifically to prevent age-related cognitive decline.”

    However, evidence from large clinical trials regarding its effect on long-term cognitive functioning is lacking.

    “In sum, we find no evidence that Gingko biloba slows the rate of cognitive decline in older adults. These findings are consistent with previous smaller studies examining prevention of decline and facilitation of cognitive performance and with the 2009 Cochrane review of Gingko biloba for dementia and cognitive impairment.”

    Source: ScienceDaily — “Gingko Biloba Does Not Appear to Slow Rate of Cognitive Decline.”

  2. Limiting my alcohol intake is going to be the hardest step for me when it comes to trying to improve my memory. I just hope that all those years of drinking as a student haven’t completely destroyed my memory capacity!

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I saw this on Twitter today: “Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.” This is further evidence that we need to lighten up and find fun, creative, happy ways to cope with stress!

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Ross,

    I think you can rebuild your memory — I think research shows that brain cells can do replenish themselves, contrary to previous opinion. This means that yes, you can improve your memory even if you’ve suffered some memory loss! Just keep up those brain fitness tips :-)

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    First-time internet users can boost their brain function in one week by surfing the net!

    “We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,” said study author Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the author of “iBrain,” a book that describes the impact of new technology on the brain and behavior.

    When performing an Internet search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to extract the important points from competing graphics and words is essential, says Small’s co-researcher.

    Previous research by the UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. According to Small, the new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience.

    Source: University of California – Los Angeles.

  6. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I’m exploring Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Prague right now, and am finding that wandering through these cities is great exercise for your brain! Keeping track of where you’ve been and where you’re going with visual and even auditory cues can really boost those neurons. Maps are good brain exercise, too.

    So, I’d add travel to this list of brain games :-)

  7. Brain Fitness Exercises

    Thanks for the tips in choosing an effective brain game. As there are innumerable brain games available it is most important to choose one that will really boost our memory power.

  8. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your extra brain tips, Alex! Very helpful.

    Jonty, I appreciate your advice on overstimulating your brain…I hadn’t thought about that, that brain exercises are similar to muscular exercises. I know muscles need a break from training, and didn’t realize your brain needs a break, too. Interesting.

  9. The nature of the brain is similar body muscles in many ways. If it is stimulated and made to work, it gets stronger and if it is not used it gets weaker. However care should be taken to not over stimulate it. Just as over training a muscle leads to injuries, stimulating the brain beyond its capacity might impair its strength.

  10. @Ventego

    Remember, brain training is a learning process, and as is the case with any such process, it takes time and effort. In all likelihood, you will not notice any immediate changes, but if you keep up with your exercise and training you should experience measurable improvements in your cognition. Where these improvements take place and how they manifest themselves will depend on what sort of exercises you are doing and how much you are doing them… and even then there will be considerable variation from person to person as each of our minds is unique.

    But yes, if you pick some memory exercises aimed at improving your memory for names and dates, and stick to them, in time you should definitely notice improvement in that area, and possibly in other aspects of memory as well.

  11. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Good question, Ventego.

    Yes, I think you know that the brain exercises or brain games are working if you find that your memory and concentration have improved. Also, if you can think with more clarity — faster cognitive processing — then I think you know that the brain exercises are working.

    Also, if you find yourself learning new things faster and easier, then the brain games might be effective.

    I also suggest taking omega-3 fatty acids and essential oils to improve brain health. I wrote about them in an article — here’s the link:

    The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Fish Oils

    Best wishes,
    Laurie

  12. Hello,

    This was an interesting article, I like the idea of thinking about the best ways to play brain games, not just to play them.

    I have a question. How do you know if your brain exercises actually work? Do you remember things better, like names and dates? I have no way to measure if the brain games are effective.

    V.

  13. Well said. Anyone looking for a brain fitness product will soon find that choosing an affordable but effective product can be quite a challenge. (Since the brain fitness industry is relatively young the cost of a product does not necessarily indicate its quality.)

    In terms of effectiveness, a study last year on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008) recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of more than 40% after 19 days of focused brain training — thirty minutes per day. I was so impressed that I contacted the research team and developed a software program using the same method — Mind Sparke Brain Fitness.

    Brain Fitness Pro has since been selected as a Top Ten gift pick by PC Mag and has been chosen by top brain gym vibrantBrains as an addition to their lineup.

    Martin
    mindsparke.com
    Effective, Affordable Brain Training Software

  14. Thanks Laurie, the admiration is mutual :) I’d love to contribute a guest post, can you email me so I have your contact info, as I can’t seem to find an appropriate method for emailing you via the site.

  15. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Your website — Play With Your Mind — is fabulous. I’m so impressed, Alex. It’s brimming over with of brain fitness tips, brain games, and all sorts of brain links!

    Hope to see more of you in cyberspace……and if you ever want to write a guest post that contains brain tips here on Quips and Tips, just let me know. I’d be happy to have you!

  16. Great list Laurie! I’ve been poking around your site for the past 10 minutes and it looks like you keep yourself busy :)

    Anyway, I just wanted to say hi since it seems like we have some similar interests … I just started following you on Twitter so I’ll be able to keepp tabs on your various musings about psychology and mental wellness.

    And for those of you looking for some more tips to stay sharp, you might want to check out my post on the topic at Play With Your Mind.com.

  17. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Regarding how scent affects your brain, I just finished writing an article for Best Health magazine (the online version) about how foods affect your mood.

    What’s especially cool is that even if you can’t – or don’t want to – smell scents such as ginger or lemons, those odours directly affect the neurotransmitters in your brain. Various smells, even when they’re undetectable, can almost immediately lift your spirits by increasing your serotonin and norepinephrine levels (those “happy” hormones!).

    So even if your nose is plugged from a cold or allergies, smelling lemons or sandalwood still affects your brain and emotions (citrus scents like lemon improve your mood).

    This isn’t really a brain fitness tip or a way to reduce memory loss, but I found it fascinating!

    Thanks for your comment, Erin — it’s great to have you here.

  18. I never heard of the scent one, that is pretty amazing though. I fully agree that keeping the brain active and cognitive are great ways to prevent memory loss. Daily activities like crosswords, reading, and other small brain challenges are said to help slow down memory loss.

  19. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for the brain health and tai chi tip, brain injury lawyer! You probably know almost as much as a doctor when it comes to brain injuries and healing ;-)

    I’ve been taking an Omega-3 supplement ever since I wrote my article for Health magazine, about staying sharp as you get older. DHA and EPA are fatty acid impoortant for brain fitness and brain health — and I think EPA is slightly more important.

    One brain expert — Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton and author of “Welcome to Your Brain” told me that exercise is the #1 way to improve brain health! It gets the blood flowing and oxygen pumping…so now I make sure I exercise at least 20 minutes every day and take my Omege-3 with my multivitamin for breakfast.

    If anyone wants me to write an article with more info about brain health — or has a question about brain health — please let me know! I’d be happy to.

    Laurie

  20. brain injury attorney

    Thanks for the 10 brain fitness tips. They are all relevant. Practicing chi gong (tai chi) for half an hour daily would also help to enhance memory and concentration.

  21. Thanks for your comments. Dalitso, what you’re saying reminds me of meditation — which actually has been proven to create a healthier brain.

    I like the idea of variety, and always striving to learn new things. This seems like an easy brain fitness tip because it’s fun :-)

    By the way, I just wrote an article for Health magazine about sharpening your thinking skills. It should be out in the September, 2009 issue…now if I can only remember to buy a copy…

  22. I believe the best way to maximise your brain memory is not actually
    scientific.I feel like its actually to be positive and inspire yourself through a lot of things like appreciating nature and getting in contact with it,free yourself from normal Eathly events and captivate your brain into a world of imagination in a solitary and quite place.