Most people have a pretty good understanding that staying healthy typically requires some sort of exercise—even if it’s gentle chair exercises, light walking, or stretching—and eating right. But did you know that you should actually be exercising your brain too?
Mental fitness includes your brain health and also your emotional health, and keeping it in tip-top shape helps you do things like:
- Slow down
- Boost a declining memory (or prevent it from getting to that point)
According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, certain memory training exercises can increase “fluid intelligence,” the ability to reason and solve new problems.
Exercising your brain helps activate neurons and parts of your brain that you may not be using regularly. Think about if you just sat and watched TV all day without really doing anything to have to think. You’re not activating different parts of your brain, which means those parts of your brain tend to be slower to respond. This leads to slower responses in conversation, reactions to outside stimuli, memory impairment, and even brain fog.
How Do I Exercise My Brain?
Exercising your brain seems like a strange concept, considering it feels like thinking all day would be enough exercise. But the problem is, when all you’re doing is thinking about what you’re watching on TV or about your daily worries, you’re actually only using one side of your brain.
To get a good hard brain sweat in, make a point to do one or more of these things at least once a day:
- Do crossword puzzles – Whether it’s in the daily newspaper or in a crossword puzzle book full of them, doing a crossword will stimulate your brain, increase your vocabulary, and help you use parts of your brain you don’t typically use in everyday tasks. If you’d prefer to do a crossword puzzle online, try USA Today’s puzzle games.
- Read a book – Grab a fiction book and escape to far-away places while trying to imagine what the worlds would look like visually, or pick up some non-fiction and learn a bunch of new things you’d always wanted to know more about. Since you can’t walk to the library right now, try ordering your books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can get an ebook version for your Kindle or from Google Books. This also gives you the option to read any book in large print if that’s your preference.
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle – You could try a 1000-piece, more complicated puzzle, or you could do something simpler and go for bigger pieces with nature scenes. Whatever you choose, when you do a puzzle, you’re using multiple cognitive abilities and is a protective factor for visuospatial cognitive aging.
- Play an instrument – Maybe you’ve played guitar your whole life, or maybe you have a passion for the piano, OR maybe you’ve never played an instrument for one second. No matter what the circumstances, playing an instrument helps you use the creative side of your brain, and if you’re learning a whole new instrument or some new songs, the concentration it takes to learn a new thing strengthens your brain!
- Learn a new language – Websites like duolingo and babbel allow you to learn a new language at your own pace. This makes your brain concentrate and focus on listening, which stimulates the brain. It strengthens your vocabulary (in both languages) too!
You can do one of these activities if you decide you love it, or you can do a little of all of them, or maybe you have another brain-stimulating activity that you are passionate about and want to start back up. It doesn’t matter what you do to stimulate your brain, just make sure you do it (and make sure you have fun with it too!).