What Can You Do to Strengthen Your Mind?
While you might know that you need to exercise your body, did you know that it might also be important to exercise your mind? You’ve probably heard the old adage “use it or lose it.” Many researchers do believe that this maxim applies to your brain health.
The brain’s plasticity allows it to adapt and change, even as you grow older. As you learn new things, you can create and strengthen neural pathways and networks. This helps make your brain stronger, but it can also help make it more flexible and adaptable to change.
Now let’s tackle some brain exercises that you can do at home. While these brain games are not designed to make you more intelligent, you might find that you feel mentally sharper and cognitively stronger if you practice them regularly.
- Take Care of Your Body to Take Care of Your Mind
If you want to take care of your mind, you need to start by taking care of your body. Research has time and time again shown that people who engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise and proper nutrition are less susceptible to the cognitive declines associated with the aging process.
Studies even suggest that exercise can make you smarter and protect your brain from shrinkage as it ages. Research has even revealed that exercise can increase neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, in the brain’s hippocampus.
So if you want to build a better mind, start by working on your physical health first. Go for a walk, start incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet and try to give up any bad habits like excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco use. Some of these might be more difficult than others, but your brain will thank you for years to come.
- Draw a Map of Your Town from Memory
While you might feel like you can navigate the streets of your neighborhood with your eyes closed, try challenging your brain by actually drawing a map of your town or neighborhood from memory. No cheating! Try to include major streets, major side streets, and local landmarks.
Once you are done, compare your memory map to a real map of the area. How did you do? Are you surprised by some of the things that you missed? If you found this activity too easy, try drawing a less familiar area from memory, such as a map of the entire United States or Europe, and try to label every state or country.
Navigating your way to the supermarket or doctor’s office might seem simple and almost automatic when you are behind the wheel of your car. However, forcing yourself to remember the layout of your neighborhood as well as draw and label it helps activate a variety of areas of your brain. Brain training research has repeatedly shown that it is exactly these types of challenging and complex activities that provide the greatest benefit to your brain.
- Learn Something New
This brain exercise requires a bit of commitment, but it is also one that just might give you the most bang for your buck. Remember how researchers believe that the most effective brain training exercises are those that are challenging, novel and complex? Learning something new is one way to keep your brain on its toes and continually introduce new challenges.
Some things you might want to try include learning a new language, learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new hobby. Not only will you be stretching your mind, but you will also be continually learning something new as you keep expanding your skills and becoming more accomplished.
- Try Using Your Non-Dominant Hand
Up next is an interesting brain exercise that one neurobiologist suggests might help “keep your brain alive.”
In his book Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness, neurobiologist Lawrence Katz recommends using your non-dominant hand to strengthen your mind. Because using your opposite hand can be so challenging, it can be a great way to increase brain activity.
Try switching hand while you are eating dinner or when you are trying to write something down. It will be difficult, but that is exactly the point. The most effective brain activities are those that are not necessarily easy.
Studies suggest that people who are socially active are also at a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Socializing tends to engage multiple areas of the brain and many social activities also include physical elements, such as playing a sport, that is also beneficial to your mind.
Even if you are an inveterate introvert, seeking social interactions can be beneficial to your brain in both the short and long-term. Some ideas for staying socially engaged to include signing up for volunteer opportunities in your community, joining a club, signing up for a local walking group, and staying in close touch with your friends and family.
Up next is a brain exercise that has been in use for thousands of years but has recently gained considerable recognition for its effectiveness.
One brain exercise you might not have considered might actually be extremely effective – meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is all the rage at the moment, espoused by positive psychologists, business leaders, and alternative health practitioners.
Studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can help engage new neural pathways, resulting in improved self-observational skills and increased mental flexibility. Research has also shown that meditation can help improve attention, focus, empathy, and even immunity. Studies also suggest that meditation might even increase the capacity of working memory.