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Mental exercise in many forms can help keep your mind sharp and improve your overall health. 

Advice for healthy living often stresses the benefits of staying physical fit, but exercising your mind can be just as important for your overall health. Exercising your brain regularly may help maintain, and even improve, your mental alertness and agility. Your brain can also get a boost from healthy eating and plenty of rest.

Crossword puzzles are often touted as a great way to exercise your mind, but not everyone enjoys solving these word games. Fortunately, there are many other activities which can keep your brain engaged. Other word puzzles like word searches and jumbles give your mind a workout, even if they don’t test your memory for facts the way crossword puzzles do.

You can also skip words completely and switch to sudoku puzzles. These popular number puzzles test your logic and reasoning skills as you attempt to arrange nine numbers in a way that prevents duplicate numbers in lines, rows or sections. Jigsaw puzzles also work your mind, as you use visual clues and a process of elimination to arrange the pieces into the correct picture.

For best results, you should ideally try your hand at a variety of puzzle games. Crosswords, word searches, sudoku and jigsaw puzzles all work your brain in different ways, just as cross-training helps you build your overall muscle fitness. But you can look beyond traditional puzzle games for mental exercise as well.

You exercise your brain each time you try a new activity or take up a new hobby. Some studies even suggest that small changes, like wearing your watch on the opposite wrist, can keep your thinking from getting in a rut. Try learning a new language, taking an art appreciation class or discovering healthier ways to cook your favorite recipes.

Healthy cooking classes are a particularly great way to exercise your mind, as they may also improve your nutrition—and a healthy brain begins with a healthy diet. Your brain needs plenty of nutrients to work at its very best. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each day, drink water instead of sugary sodas, and choose whole grains whenever possible. Also, look for sources of healthy fat in your diet, such as fish and olive oil.

While exercise and nutrition help your mind stay alert, your brain also needs plenty of rest. Talk to your doctor about any problems which may be affecting your nightly sleep (e.g. leg cramps, sleep apnea, generalized insomnia). But also try to slip in some rest during the day. Short naps (20 to 30 minutes) are a great way to refresh.

If you don’t like to sleep during the day, you can also reap benefits by learning to quiet your mind through meditation. Tai chi and restorative yoga can help active people learn to settle their minds through joining breath with practiced movements.

Overall health includes your mind, body and spirit. When your mind is exercised, well-rested and well-nourished, the benefits of increased mental clarity will help you enjoy your life to the fullest.