Brain Exercises to Supercharge Your Mind
Almost everyone would agree that muscle mass decreases over time. This is especially true for individuals who rarely exercise. However, it comes as a surprise to many individuals that the human brain can also atrophy as time goes on if it is not given proper stimulation. In specific, the brain’s cognitive reserve diminishes throughout time. The term “cognitive reserve” refers to the brain’s ability to withstand the side effects of neurological damage, the latter of which is a part of the aging process.
- Brain Exercises to Supercharge Your Mind
- Nine Truly Effective Brain Exercises That Are Easy to Implement
- 1. Start With the Morning Newspaper
- 2. Making Music a Regular Part of Life
- 3. Testing Memory on a Regular Basis
- 4. Learn a New Language or Simply Work on Building Current Vocabulary
- 5. Enroll in a Cooking Class for a Great Mental Workout
- 6. Take the Taste Bud Challenge
- 7. Drawing From Memory Boosts Brain Power
- 8. Learn a New Sport and Enjoy a Healthy Brain and a Fit Body
- 9. Exercising Fine Motor Skills Gives the Brain a Great Workout
Symptoms of Cognitive Decline
There is a broad range of symptoms associated with age-related cognitive decline. Many people accept the following symptoms as normal and do not look for a solution:
- Visibly longer time needed to communicate thoughts or problem solve
- The need to write things down that would previously be remembered without much effort
- General memory loss
- Difficulty performing mental tasks that were previously easy
- Misplacing common objects
- Finding it difficult to remember new facts or information
Whether a person is experiencing one or many of these symptoms, it is obvious that they can negatively affect his or her life. It can be quite frustrating when it suddenly becomes more difficult to remember names, phone numbers and short grocery lists without having to rely on written notes or prompts from friends or relatives. However, when one stops to think about it, these changes are not always as sudden as they appear. Rather, they are simply the ravages of time on the human brain and have probably been occurring for years.
Increasing the Cognitive Reserves of the Human Brain
Similar to the way working out with weights add lean muscle to the physical body and helps the person maintain a greater percentage of muscle later in life, scientists now believe that the same is true for the human brain: following a lifestyle that is healthy for the mind and participating in targeted brain exercises on a regular basis may greatly increase the brain’s cognitive reserves.
A Multifaceted Approach is Best for Brain Health
In one of the most intricate studies to date on the connection between the risk for dementia and lifestyle factors, scientists discovered that individuals who participated in a broad range of healthy behaviors considerably reduced their overall dementia risk.
The study was published in 2013 in PLOS ONE, and it followed 2,235 men for three decades. Specifically, it chronicled their participation in five lifestyle behaviors that enhance good health:
• Not smoking
• Maintaining an optimal body mass index
• Exercising regularly
• Eating substantial amounts of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis
• Limiting alcohol intake to a moderate or low level
At the conclusion of the study, participants who followed at least four of these five healthy behaviors had a 60 percent lower chance of developing dementia or cognitive impairment as they aged than those who did not adopt a similarly healthy lifestyle.
Diet and Exercise as a Factor in the Prevention of Cognitive Decline
Doctor Robert Bender, director of the Healthy Aging Institute and the Johnny Orr Memory Center in Des Moines Iowa, states that some of the best approaches to a healthy brain include a diet high in antioxidants and low in bad cholesterol.
Bender also states that in addition to a healthy diet, brain tissue can be protected through regular exercise because physical exercise promotes good vascular health.
Avoiding Boredom and Ruts–A Critical Aspect of Brain Health
Doctor Bender is also a proponent of learning new things, regardless of one’s age. In fact, he states that this is essentially what all brains want to do, noting that certain scientists in the medical field now believe that one’s risk for dementia is higher when he or she pays little or no attention to people and events in daily life. This is also referred to as having a “passive brain,” and it is now believed that passive brains atrophy quicker than brains that are challenged on a regular basis.
For example, it is possible that a person who completes puzzles, reads books, listens to music and watches TV will be less prone to brain atrophy than those who simply watch TV and do little else. Experts such as Doctor Bender and others in the mental health field also see great benefit in participating in brain exercises that have been proven to work.
What to Avoid When Searching for Ways to Boost Cognitive Function
Along with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and the other general activities outlined above, there are additional avenues through which to work out the brain. However, those interested in boosting brainpower and preventing cognitive decline may wish to forgo today’s highly popular “brain training software.” Although it sounds like an easy way to prevent memory loss and old age dementia, there is little evidence to prove it works.
PLOS Medicine published a review in 2014 that highlighted research done by Australian scientists who looked at 52 different studies on brain training software and other computer-based cognitive training tools. Such software was found to have little or no impact with regard to improving brain function in the 4,885 participants who took part in the study.
Stick to Real World Activities
Experts recommend choosing brain exercises that involve every day, real-world activities, particularly those that offer challenge and novelty. This is because the human mind works through association, which is why it is easier for most individuals to memorize the words to a song than to try to commit the same words to memory if they are not accompanied by music. In other words, the more senses a person must use to complete the exercise, the more beneficial the outcome is likely to be in most cases.
Nine Truly Effective Brain Exercises That Are Easy to Implement
1. Start With the Morning Newspaper
Shunning Internet and video games in lieu of puzzles that must actually be worked out with a pen and paper is a great place to start. These are far more effective than online games and will ultimately sharpen mental skills much more than the aforementioned activities. Simple puzzles like Sudoku and similar activities are good choices. Puzzles where a person is required to find a certain number of differences between two pictures–even though both frames initially looked the same–are good for brain exercise as well.
2. Making Music a Regular Part of Life
Listening to music is one of the few activities that require a person to use both the left and the right side of his or her brain. The right side processes the creative parts of the music, while the left side must interpret words and anticipate where the particular piece of music is going. Joining a choir or taking lessons on a musical instrument are also great ways to learn something new and complex. Because these activities are typically done over a lengthy period of time, they are perfect for long-term results.
3. Testing Memory on a Regular Basis
If a person tests his or her recall regularly, it provides good mental stimulation and can possibly prevent cognitive decline for many years. A great way to implement this practical exercise is to make a list of anything that comes to mind. This may be a to-do list, a list of grocery items, or even a list of goals for the future. The person should attempt to memorize everything on the list and approximately 60 minutes later, see how many he or she is able to recall. For the greatest challenge, one should make the list somewhat intricate.
4. Learn a New Language or Simply Work on Building Current Vocabulary
A rich and diversified vocabulary has been directly linked to a lower risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline. More studies are underway to determine exactly why this is the case, but it may involve the fact that hearing and listening stimulate the brain, and one must do both to learn a foreign language or build his or her current vocabulary.
5. Enroll in a Cooking Class for a Great Mental Workout
Because cooking uses a number of senses, including taste, sight, touch, and smell, it involves various parts of the brain. This makes such activity a great mental workout. In addition, it is a way to meet new people and ultimately become involved in conversations about a variety of things in addition to merely cooking. These include world events, politics, and anything else that may come up during the idle conversation with fellow classmates. Such conversations also stimulate the mind and give the brain a good workout.
6. Take the Taste Bud Challenge
A simple but highly effective mind exercise is for one to challenge his or her taste buds. When consuming any type of food, one should make an attempt to identify each ingredient, particularly those that are subtle, such as spices and herbs. This involves two senses, which are taste and smell, and it also forces one to access the critical thinking area of his or her brain in order to “solve” for the unidentified ingredients.
7. Drawing From Memory Boosts Brain Power
Drawing a map from memory may at first seem like a daunting endeavor. This is particularly true in the era of GPS and other devices designed to eliminate the need for critical thinking. However, a great mental exercise is to return home from visiting a new area and attempt to sketch out a map from memory. One should attempt to repeat this activity every time he or she visits a new place. Accessing memory banks and training the brain to retrieve information from the trip is a great way to prevent cognitive decline.
8. Learn a New Sport and Enjoy a Healthy Brain and a Fit Body
Learning a new sport or exercise is a great way to not only maintain physical health but also sharpen memory and increase mental prowess. One can simply choose an appealing athletic exercise that uses both the body and mind, such as tennis, golf or yoga. Fortunately, the benefits of such activity are typically realized in a short length of time.
9. Exercising Fine Motor Skills Gives the Brain a Great Workout
Refining hand-eye coordination is a great way to give the human brain a good workout. This can be accomplished through simple avenues such as taking up painting, drawing, knitting, assembling puzzles or anything that involves fine motor skills. It is a proven fact that participating in such activities on a regular basis can significantly slow down the rate at which cognitive decline occurs.
As time goes on, more individuals will likely realize that there are many ways to maintain brain health, just as it is now common knowledge that one can take certain actions to prevent specific physical maladies. Brain wellness should be as important as physical health, and this will probably be the case as more people learn how to give their minds, as well as their bodies, a challenging workout.