We all know that we need to exercise for our good physical health. But did you know that it is also important to exercise our brain for its good functioning? You would have probably heard the old proverb “use it or lose it." Several studies have proved, and many researchers believe that this saying applies to our brain health. If we keep our brain active, it will be in its best condition, or we may lose out on the best.
A study conducted by Cambridge University showed that mid-aged adults who performed activities like solving puzzles or learning musical instruments had improved short‐term memory test scores. Another study conducted in India established that the attention span of young adults increased significantly after regularly following brain exercises. Several studies are coming up to show us the effectiveness of keeping our brain active by practicing simple exercises and performing brain activities.
These studies give us the idea that if we follow regular brain-related activity, it can help in improving cognitive abilities and aid us in the long term. In this blog, we will look into such evidence-based exercises and practices that can offer the best brain-boosting benefits.
Our brain is involved in everything we do and, like any other part of our body, it needs to be looked after too. As we get older, cognitive abilities like attention, focus, and memory that aids in daily functionality become the top priority. Keeping the brain active may boost such cognitive abilities. This can make daily tasks quicker and easier and keep the brain sharp as we get older. There are numerous ways by which we can grind our mental sharpness and help our brain to stay healthy, no matter how old we are.
Brain activity doesn't always have to be exercise-related. Several studies have found that simple creative practices like painting and other art forms, learning to play an instrument, doing expressive writing, and learning a new language can improve cognitive functions like attention, recalling instructions, and processing speed.
The first and foremost thing to improve our brain capacity is to take care of our body which will, in turn, take care of our brain. It is proven that individuals who engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise, quality sleep, and a healthy diet are less susceptible to the cognitive declines associated with the aging process. Exercise can keep our brain active by supplying oxygen, improving neurogenesis (construction of new brain cells), and it can also protect our brain from shrinkage as it ages. So, if we want to build a better mind, we need to start working on our physical health first as it gives a feeling of well-being and inner strength.
Going for a jog, slow walks, including fresh fruits and vegetables into the diet, having a good sleep, and giving up habits like excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco use can help to a great extent. Some of these might be difficult, but our brains will thank us for years to come.
Now we will look into a few exercises and practices that will help in maintaining brain health.
Whether assembling a 1,000-piece image of any famous monument or joining 100 pieces to make tom and jerry, working on a jigsaw puzzle is an excellent way to strengthen our brains.
Doing jigsaw puzzles demands multiple cognitive abilities, and it is a defensive factor for visuospatial cognitive health. In other words, when putting together a jigsaw puzzle, we have to look for objects, shifting spatial attention, holding items in visual memory, detecting patterns of different pieces, and finding out where they suit within the bigger picture. A study by a German university in 2018 showed that study participants showed improved visuospatial cognition by regularly involving themselves in jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws can be a great way to challenge and exercise the brain.
Learning a new skill
There will always be something we always wanted to learn. Perhaps we would like to learn how to repair cars, use a particular software program, or play a musical instrument. We now have one more good reason to know that new skill!
Learning a new skill is not only fun and exciting, but it may also help strengthen the connections in our brain. This will keep our brain on its toes and continually introduce new challenges. In a study titled “The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults,” Denise C. Park and his colleagues at Texas University found that sustained engagement in learning new skills for 3months improved cognitive functions like working memory, episodic memory, and reasoning in older adults.
Listening to music or playing music
According to a 2017 study at Yale University, listening to happy tunes helps stimulate brain chemicals like dopamine (responsible for happiness, motivation, reinforcement, creative thinking, and reward). This means, listening to good music can help boost our innovative thinking and overall brainpower.
Taking a new route
We should not get stuck in a route when it comes to daily tasks. Instead, we should be willing to try new ways to do the same things.
Choosing a different route to get to work each week or trying a different mode of transport, like biking or using public transportation instead of driving, can benefit the brain. We might be surprised by how easy it is to change our thinking. A 2011 study on taxi drives in London showed in PET scan that the brain activity in the medial parietal lobe (visual and episodic memory), right hippocampus (learning and memory) was improved after they started to use new routes every day.
Daily meditation can calm our bodies and help us in reducing stress and anxiety. It also helps to fine-tune our memory and increase our brain’s ability to process information. It aids in engaging new neural pathways, resulting in improved mental flexibility, improved attention, focus, and empathy.
A 2017 study conducted by the Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia and University School of Public Health, USA, suggested that meditation significantly enhanced subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults and may promise improving outcomes.
Learning a new language
Research studies in language and neuroscience say that bilingualism can contribute to better memory, improved visual-spatial skills, and higher levels of creativity.
Being fluent in more than one language may also help us switch between different tasks and delay the onset of age-related mental decline.
Trying to use the non-dominant hand.
In his book ‘Keep Your Brain Alive,’ Lawrence Katz talks about engaging brain exercises that might help prevent memory loss and increase mental fitness. He recommends using our non-dominant hands to strengthen our minds. Because using the opposite hand is very demanding, it can be a great way to increase brain activity.
Trying to switch hands while we are writing or eating dinner or trying to hold something. It will be challenging, but that is the whole point of doing it.
Socializing activates multiple areas in our brain.
Even if we are introverts, seeking social interactions can benefit our brain in both the short and long terms. Socializing helps overcome mental health issues like depression, and it also prevents cognitive decline by keeping our brains active.
Few ideas for staying socially active encompass signing up for volunteer opportunities in the community, joining a club, signing up for a local walking group, and staying in close touch with your friends and family.
The bottom line is that keeping the brain active by practicing the above-mentioned exercise is the best way to keep our brain healthy. By incorporating brain exercises into our everyday life, we will challenge our mind, sharpen our cognitive skills like focus, memory, and possibly learn something new and enriching along the way, no matter what age we are!
Anderson T, et al. (2016). Vocabulary and the brain: Evidence from neuroimaging studies.n researchgate. net/publication/ 311222670_Vocabulary e_Brain_Evidence_from_Neuroimaging_Studies
Fissler P, et al. (2018). Jigsaw puzzling taps multiple cognitive abilities and is a potential protective factor for cognitive agingexercise mentioned above. DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00299
Marian V, et al. (2012). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/
Park D, et al. (2014). The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: The synapse project. DOI: 10.1177/0956797613499592
Ritter S, et al. (2017). Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182210
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