With so much importance given to maintaining physical health, we often forget to keep the brain active and fit. Just as we lose muscle without regular exercise, our brains are capable of decline without constant use. Brain exercises help your mental health and fitness in the same way your body benefits from a jog in the park. In recent years, the importance of mental health has risen significantly, even leading to the development of an entire medical field of its own – cognitive medicine.
With ongoing research in neuroscience, we now know that the brain is continually learning and adapting. Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to physiologically change in response to our environment – allows us to learn, and forget, very quickly. As we learn new things, the brain creates new neural connections between activated parts of the brain. When certain connections are inactive for longer periods of time, neural pathways easily weaken and disintegrate. This is the main contributor to a decrease in memory, attention, reasoning and other cognitive functions with age.
Recent studies have shown that several negative lifestyle factors can contribute to cognitive impairment. However, with a little effort each day, it’s possible to maintain a healthy mind and body.
Simple day-to-day activities can do wonders in exercising your brain, as well as keeping you busy and entertained. Don’t be a victim to the stereotypes of aging!
1. Cooking: Cooking stimulates sensory parts of your brain with smell, taste, touch and sight. Learning a new recipe can test your attention span.
2. News Reading: Keep up with current events. Try not to rely on the television to keep you updated. Reading is very important in exercising complex cognitive functions.
3. Yoga: Not only is yoga a great physical exercise, it is most definitely a mental one too. It helps decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. The increased oxygen levels with breathing exercises also help fuel the brain.
4. Interact with the family: Strengthen your long-term memory by tell your grandchildren stories of your past. Keeping positive familial ties also helps release stress, which could slow down cognitive function.
5. Knitting: Knitting is a fun, yet less rigorous, physical activity that stimulates the motor areas of the brain. Your precise hand movements also refine your fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
6. Socializing: Meet your friends for a cup of coffee or for an evening of cards and board games. Maintaining positive, meaningful social relationships not only boosts one’s mood but also relieve stress and depression.
7. Gardening: Add beauty to your yard and exercise your brain while you are at it. Not only will you have freshly grown vegetables, fruits and herbs to improve your cooking, you will also gain mental clarity and sensory awareness.
8. Travelling: Take a break from your routine and travel. Expose your brain to new stimuli and complex environments. Being confined to the limits of your home can become monotonous and keep your mental health at a standstill. You don’t need to travel the world for your mental exercise; even going to a different area of your own city can show the same effect.
9. Dancing: Play your favorite song and have a little fun with your mental exercise. Dancing enhances your motor, musical, emotional and rational brain functions all at once. Studies show that dancing has shown a greater positive effect on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients than reading and puzzles.
10. Using your non-dominant hand: Do simple tasks, such as brushing your teeth and stirring your coffee, with your non-dominant hand. This strengthens connectivity between neural cells and activates rarely used motor areas of the brain.
11. Art: Whether it’s creating mosaics, jewelry, pottery, painting, or drawing, the combination of motor and creative cognitive processing will promote better brain connectivity.
12. Learn how to play an instrument: Playing an instrument is multisensory experience that challenges your visual, hearing, fine movement, memory and attention skills. It also helps increase reaction time and keeps the brain alert. Additionally, music is known to be an uplifting tactic to boost anyone’s sour mood.
13. Puzzles: Sudoku, crossword, word search and jigsaw puzzles improve higher cognitive functionality and coordination. Puzzles help develop your ability to reason, analyze, sequence, deduce, logical thought processes and problem solving skills in one go.
14. Sleep: Be well rested and get a good night’s sleep. Sleep allows brain cells to grow dendritic spines, which connect neurons and allow easy transmission of information around your brain.
15. Diet: It is important to provide your body and brain with the fuel it needs to sustain itself. Enrich your body with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B and vitamin D to promote neuroplasticity. Diet is also linked to the hippocampus, a key area of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mental health. Limit smoking and drinking to a minimum as they can drastically speed up brain aging.
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