Are you trying to sharpen your mental ability, or concerned about how aging might affect your mind? Do you feel like your work has you in a deadening routine? Just like your muscles or any other part of your body, your brain needs regular exercise to keep it fit and in shape.
Whatever your reason for being concerned about your brain’s health, the things that you can do to exercise it are quite simple and often enjoyable, too. This article focuses on some specific suggestions for putting it into practice.
Read on for a list of some simple activities with which you can make your life much more cognitively stimulating without even having to take a lot of time out of your day. These small tasks will turn your everyday life into a brain-gym of your very own!
Change Your Commute
Let’s start with the simplest tactic: go down a different street on your way to work. That’s right, changing your commute forces your brain to problem-solve and navigate, and stimulates your senses with new sights and situations. It will take very little time out of your day, but it will repay you by making the time you spend anyway driving or riding the bus into something that benefits your health.
Turn Something Upside Down
Looking at familiar objects from a different angle activates different parts of your brain, particularly those that process new experiences and situations. Turning objects from your everyday surroundings upside down or repositioning them helps keep your mind alert and active.
If you want to get more serious about this, redecorate! It will stretch your spatial imagination and make you get reacquainted with your space. And it might give you motivated to put up those pictures you’ve been meaning to frame and hang!
Do Something with Your Eyes Closed
Try showering, sweeping, or taking out the trash with your eyes closed. Navigating familiar places with a different set of senses makes your mind perceive things in new ways, and uses different parts of your brain. But, be safe! Don’t try this where you could fall and hurt yourself, or with a task in which you might scald, cut, or injure yourself.
Count Your Change
Studies show that the brains of the blind, who must rely on other senses to navigate their world, learn to use different parts of the cortex to interpret stimuli. Just like when doing a familiar task with your eyes closed, using your sense of touch to identify objects will activate different parts of your brain for the task of interpreting your world. One way to practice this is to count the change in your pocket without looking at it; see if you can tell the difference between quarters, dimes, nickels, and cents without a glance at their shiny surfaces.
Memorize a List
Nowadays, we rely on our smartphones and other devices to remind us of everything that we have to do or buy. To mix things up, try a new way of organizing your day, like writing down your list on paper, or try to memorize it and recite it from memory. This will exercise your long- and short-term memory (depending on how long you need to remember your list for) and test your ability to recall.
Cook a New Dish
Sign up for a cooking class or just make yourself a new meal from a recipe. Counting, measuring, imagining how flavors work together, and plating your dish will activate the parts of your brain used for math, spatial reasoning, and synthesizing information, while the act of cooking will stimulate the sensory centers for sight, smell, touch, and sound. Bonus: you get a delicious meal when you are done, and you’ve learned something new!
There Once Was a Man from Nantucket (Write a Poem!)
Try putting together a few lines of rhyming verse. Try a limerick! It can be fun and funny, too, and it will exercise the parts of your brain that recall words and sounds and associate ideas. You can visit one of the many online poetry magazines, like the Poetry Foundation, if you want some inspiration.
Do Crossword Puzzles
Most local newspapers come with these, but if you don’t get one, you can findplenty online! Just print one out and work over it with your morning coffee.
Draw a Map
After you’ve gone somewhere, draw out a map from memory, by hand, of the route there from your home. Do this each time you visit a new place, and keep the maps. At the end of a few months you’ll have a nice little stack of maps, and you can look back and see all the different places you’ve been! For an added challenge, draw the map with your non-dominant hand.
Whatever happened to the days when grandfathers would putter about in the shop and grandmothers would crochet and knit? Whatever your gender, switching off the TV and putting some time into learning a tactile hobby like knitting or carving will forestall aging and keep the brain centers that deal with hand-eye coordination and spatial imagination alive and well.
Speak and Sing!
Finally, if you have the time to invest in a more ambitious approach, start learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new language. Even if you can’t afford formal classes, there are YouTube tutorials and free apps that will teach you a few words every day of a foreign language.
Studies show that sustained engagement in learning new skills—learning something new and at least somewhat complex over an extended time—helps prevent the usual effects of aging on the mind and keep it agile and able.
Whatever your age, doing these simple things every day as you go about your daily routine will exercise different parts of your brain, helping you keep your mind fit and healthy and increasing your problem-solving, creative, and imaginative faculties in tip-top shape long into life. Good luck and happy thinking!