I sometimes go on a brain-cation, watching Entertainment Tonight, flipping through glossy fashion magazines, playing rock-paper-scissors with myself and staring off into space gape-mouthed and dazed. It’s not pretty. And unlike a real vacation, I rarely come back from it recharged.  

the brain is just as important as exercising the body. When we age and our bodies fail us, if we’ve done our part, the brain will still be there for us. We can fight cognitive decline in the same way we fight ab-flab and jiggling triceps — with hard work and dedication.

I propose we come back from the brain-cation and give ourselves a mental retreat instead; sort of like boot camp for the brain, only without all the yelling and push-ups. Here is a great list of gray matter workouts:

Stand on your head: Suza Francina, yoga teacher and noted author, recently told me, “ … we yogis make a point to get our head below the level of the heart several minutes a day to increase circulation to the brain.” She says her head always feels clearer after she does a headstand.

Practice the three r’s: Exercise is good for the brain, but so are reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reading and writing should be done daily, but e-mail, text messages and scanning Web sites don’t count. And reading should go deeper than a 500-word column on mental fitness! Keep a book by your bedside and read a chapter each night. As for math, simply put down the calculator and try your hand at doing simple formulas with pen and paper. Better yet, try adding figures in your head.

Play games: Crossword puzzles, the daily Jumble and Sudoku all provide great workouts for the brain. Sudoku, in particular, develops logical thinking, and despite all the numbers, really does not involve math. I find it to be a great stress-reliever. Another great game, Brain Age for the handheld Nintendo DS, makes mental fitness fun with memory and math challenges.

Take back your memory: Technology is turning our brains into mush, so I challenge you to memorize something, anything. It could be a shopping list, your credit card number, someone’s name or a poem. I’ve got the first few lines of Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee” down!

Focus: Multi-tasking is over-rated, impractical and impossible. Right now, my television is on, my husband is on the phone, my Labrador is begging for food, my e-mail is open and I am surfing the Internet. The truth is, if I am going to give my readers or my editor anything of quality, all of that will have to be pushed aside (after I feed the dog). Take a tip from productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, and get yourself a two-minute timer to allow yourself dedicated time and focus for the task at hand. Your brain will thank you.

For more information, check out one of Suza Francina’s favorite Web sites featuring tips for any age to keep the mind sharp:www.eldr.com/pack ages/work-out-your-brain.    Lisa first became interested in fitness when her junior high P.E. teacher told her she threw like a girl. Now, she hikes and does Pilates. And she still throws like a girl. Visit her Web site at www.LisaSnider.com and send fitness topic suggestions to findingojai@aol.com.