Who doesn’t like to be brainy? We all secretly wish to be able to calculate huge numbers in our mind without touching the calculator, or answer any quiz about world affairs, geography, science and arts in a matter of seconds. Growing up too, what we all commonly prayed for, was to be brainy enough to score high in school tests, be smarter than our peers, and thus escape scoldings from our parents.
The human brain is a fascinating organ, which contains billions of nerves that are responsible for carrying out various functions of the body. The brain is divided into specific areas, and each part is involved in carrying out a set of responsibilities, including vision, memory, motor functions, language, breathing, sleep and balance among others. It is a vital organ that connects all the other organs in the body and keeps them working efficiently as you go about your daily activities. This is the reason why it is important to keep it active and young.
The matter of brain
While the brain is an extremely smart organ capable of carrying out various tasks, it is also good to put it to a test every once in a while. The more you challenge it, the more it will learn and evolve, and as such, will stay active too. Certain parts of the brain, especially the area of the frontal lobe (prefrontal cortex) and the hippocampus play a vital role in learning, memory and other complex mental activities. The key thing for brain performance is not the number of cells we have but the number and quality of connections between them. In the brain, we not only have a very large number of neurons (one type of brain cell) but also an almost unimaginably large number of potential connections among them.
The brain makes connections among its neurons when we learn new skills or information, when we ensure that we are engaged by what we do, and when we are mentally stimulated. Remain mentally active and you help protect yourself against the effects of natural decline. This is why our elders have always encouraged us to learn new skills and different art forms. Learning something new is the key, which include activities like art, cooking, puzzle solving, learning to play a musical instrument, participating in plays, so on and so forth. Even 30 minutes of morning walk can work wonders in charging up your brain because this is the time when certain useful rays of the sun gets absorbed, which then works in many ways to help it perform better.
What Makes an Activity a Brain Exercise?
And there are many good reasons for this. It simplifies life. Brain exercise limits brain-draining decision making. It lets us perform complex tasks like driving a car with little mental effort. Routines are run by our subconscious and require very little brain energy. And consequently they provide the brain with very little stimulation. Just as your body gets soft and lethargic from lack of physical activity, your brain gets sluggish and slow from too much routine. Proactively shaking up your daily routines is key to a healthier, sharper mind. The experts agree that for an activity to stimulate your brain enough to exercise it, it must meet two criteria. The activity must be both novel and complex.
Benefits You Can Expect from Brain Exercise
Exercising your mind helps you be your mental best now while it protects against future memory loss and cognitive decline. Though you can’t expect to get all of the following benefits from any one activity, brain exercise is reported to help in all these areas:
- less stress
- better memory
- more positive mood
- increased focus and concentration
- boost in motivation and productivity
- enhanced fluid intelligence, creativity, and mental flexibility
- faster thinking and reaction time
- greater self-confidence
- sharper vision and hearing
Let’s review some of the best activities that have repeatedly been proven to support cognitive and mental health. Remember, these and any good brain exercises are novel and complex.
How to exercise your brain?
1. Read as much as you can to exercise your brain
Reading is great brain exercise. You can read newspapers, magazines or books but just keep in mind that the more challenging the text is, the more of a workout your brain will get. Like any exercise, start small and work your way up.
- Try reading books that will teach you something new, such as books about history or another subject that interests you.
2. Always work on your vocabulary for exercising your brain
You can also learn new words from a word-a-day calendar or dictionary. This exercises the language portion of your brain.
- Try writing a new word someplace where you will see it often, such as on a whiteboard in your kitchen or on a sticky note on your desk. Choose a word that is challenging to spell and use to get the most out of this daily exercise.
3. Write something for the functioning of brain
Writing requires loads of thinking! You can write made-up stories, write down the things that have happened to you.
4. Learn a new language to exercise the brain
Learning a language is like a hack for your brain, opening up all sorts of pathways. This exercises the part of your brain that stores language information, even making you better at speaking your own language.
- Languages are a great way to keep learning new things and challenging your brain.Even if you only learn a few new words or phrases in a language, this will exercise your brain.
5. Learn to play a musical instrument
Learning how to play a musical instrument or learning how to sing is a great way to challenge your brain because this will engage you in a long-term learning experience. You can take lessons, use videos to teach yourself, or join a group such as choir to engage with music.
- Try learning to play the ukulele. This is an easy instrument to learn and there are even clubs for people who play.
6. Do daily crosswords and puzzles for the exercising the brain
Simple puzzles like crosswords can help your brain do some basic work. These are easy to fit into your day. You can even find some for free online. Progress to more involved puzzles. Large, complex puzzles give your brain a stronger workout. These can sometimes take several days to a week to finish but they’re worth the effort. This doesn’t just mean a puzzle in the traditional sense either. Check out Japanese pocket puzzles for a serious brain teaser that you can do while you’re killing time.
Consider playing chess. Chess is an incredibly strategic and tactical game. Few puzzles surpass chess in working out your brain. Chess is simple to learn and easy to play. Look into joining a chess club in your area to get more opportunities to play and learn from more experienced players. Play video games in moderation. Did you know that playing video games in moderation may actually make you smarter? Puzzle solving games like Mario, Zelda, Scribblenauts, and Myst are like a good cardio workout for your brain, helping you to become a better, more creative problem solver, and a faster thinker.
Brain Exercises for a Smarter You
1. Memory game
Who remembers the memory game we used to play as children? The stack of cards with pairs of buses, cars, fruits, vegetables and all sorts of objects that were shuffled and arranged in neat rows and we had to match the pairs solely through the power of our memory. That’s an excellent brain exercise. Another easy game is to pay close attention to your surroundings on your way to or back from work, and then draw out a map of the route with all that you remember of seeing. And check it out the next day. With time, you will also become more attentive of your surroundings.
2. The Arithmetic way
As much as majority of us hate maths, the truth is that it is an excellent way of exercising the brain. No, we are not asking you to add up big numbers within seconds or multiply three digit numbers (or even two digits for that matter). But partake in simple maths and challenge yourself as you progress. Get back to basics and start with counting tables. Then do the series of squares and cubes.
3. Brain training games
We all know Sudoku, which is a fantastic brain training game, and also Minesweeper. But we live in the digital world, so let’s make use of technology. Search for brain training games online and there will be various websites that will pop up with an extensive range of games. Sign into any website and start playing. As simple as that! Most of them are formulated in such a manner to train your cognitive skills – memory, attention, speed, mental flexibility, emotional intelligence etc. These games include matching colours, remembering patterns, testing speed, applying logic, and other simple games which are also a lot of fun and a good way to pass time.
4. Fun with words
Name, Place, Animal, Things – this would definitely rank high as one of the all-time favourite games. Not only is it an excellent way to increase your knowledge, but sharpen your memory too. Scrabbles is a great exercise as well. Another popular way to remember words is by Mnemonics, a practise where you try to connect a group of words by phrases to remember them better. Remember your geography class and the common trick to memorise the nine planets? My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets! Mnemonics are a handy way of committing dry facts to memory. Try to challenge yourself to remember all the names of the rivers in your state, the city names, or capitals of different countries using mnemonics. There are so many options. Do one everyday!
5. The power of food. Cooking enhance brain functioning
Love cooking? You may already be smarter than others who don’t. Cooking is one skill which makes use of all your senses to be able to create that perfect dish – smell, sight, taste, touch and sound. As such, it is a great exercise for the brain. Attempt different recipes and cuisines, and try to play around with unfamiliar ingredients; this way you will improve you attention as well. And while eating, try and identify different smells and flavours of your meal rather than digging straight in to curb the hunger pangs.
6. Puzzle time
Do you like solving puzzles? If you are just about warming up to the thought, then go the easy way. First, try your hands at jigsaw puzzles. It’s a good exercise for the brain because it helps in refining your hand-eye coordination, and it is a lot of fun too. If you don’t have the time for buying boxes of puzzles, just go online and solve jigsaw puzzles for free. Building blocks is another good exercise!
7. Happiness is the key to success
Author Shakuntala Devi states in her book, Super Memory: Ageless Memory in 12 Practical Lessons, “As the Bhagavad Gita says, ‘…From anger results delusion, from delusion results confusion of memory…’ Not only anger, but a scroll of other unhappy emotions can fog you mind: fear, depression, self-pity, envy, grief, hatred, restlessness, anxiety. With this mist overhanging your mind, your senses can get dulled to the point where you are not registering even your immediate environment or experiences.” It is therefore essential to stay happy, which also helps boost your brain to perform better. So release those happy hormones by working out, trekking, dancing, meditating or anything that makes you the happiest.
5 Brain Exercises That Ensure Memory Improvement
1. The 4-Details observation exercise
Gary Small talks about memorizing four details of people you encounter out in public. For example, let’s say someone is wearing a gray sweater, black hat, red belt and green shoes. The goal is to observe the details first and then recall them later. Some scientists call brain exercises like these “passive memory training.” They’re passive because you’re not using any special memory techniques. You’re just asking your mind to do what it was designed to do: remember. Why does this matter?
2. To boost memory
- Test your recall. Make a list — of grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind — and memorize it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall. Make items on the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.
- Let the music play. Learn to play a musical instrument or join a choir. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for the aging mind.
- Do math in your head. Figure out problems without the aid of pencil, paper, or computer; you can make this more difficult — and athletic — by walking at the same time.
- Take a cooking class. Learn how to cook a new cuisine. Cooking uses a number of senses: smell, touch, sight, and taste, which all involve different parts of the brain.
- Learn a foreign language. The listening and hearing involved stimulates the brain. What’s more, a rich vocabulary has been linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline.
- Create word pictures. Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of any other words that begin (or end) with the same two letters.
- Draw a map from memory. After returning home from visiting a new place, try to draw a map of the area; repeat this exercise each time you visit a new location.
- Challenge your taste buds. When eating, try to identify individual ingredients in your meal, including subtle herbs and spices.
- Refine your hand-eye abilities. Take up a new hobby that involves fine-motor skills, such as knitting, drawing, painting, assembling a puzzle, etc.
- Learn a new sport. Start doing an athletic exercise that utilizes both mind and body, such as yoga, golf, or tennis.
Thus, brain exercise is also an important thing to look after whether you are a kid or an adult. It is necessary for your overall improvement.