Seven Ways to Exercise Your Brain

Like the body, the brain can become out of shape and lethargic; you can lose memory function through inactivity. Many have used the term “use it or lose it” to describe brain function; research appears to support that notion. It is critically important to develop an open and upbeat attitude about trying new things, says Alvaro Fernandez of the Sharp Brains website. He believes that the best brain exercises have these three components–novelty, variety and constant challenge.

Challenge Yourself with Numbers

Fernandez recommends easy math exercises to benefit short-term memory. Try and remember as many of your friends’ phone numbers or birthdays that you can. Count by 3s, 4s or 5s, etc., (3, 6, 9, 12); or use subtraction, for example, by subtracting 6 from 500, then subtract again from the remainder, 494. It is important that the exercises be challenging, yet achievable, to avoid creating additional stress.

Keep Busy

Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, advises that keeping yourself busy supports memory function. In Stern’s long-term study of 1,800 older adults, he found leisure activities to be important in lowering the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These activities can be as simple as playing cards, visiting friends, taking a walk or going out to eat.

Reduce Stress

Take five minutes from your day, several times a day for a quick visualization exercise–especially if you are chronically stressed. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm. Visualize a beautiful scene, like the ocean, a field of flowers or a forest. Other visualizations may include conjuring a happy memory or simply thinking of some way you have been successful or recognized for good work.

Get Moving

There is a great deal of research showing that physical activity–particularly aerobic–benefits the brain as well as the body. Research conducted by Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Illinois, showed that walking for 45 minutes, three times a week for six months, significantly improves mental ability.

Games for the Brain

Crossword puzzles, knitting, playing monopoly–even playing along with “Jeopardy” on television–can assist with short-term brain function. According to the National Institute on Aging, these types of activities may help ward off long-term illnesses, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Try Computer Brain Teasers

Some neuropsychologists prefer computer-based brain exercise software programs, or online brain teaser websites like the Brain Den website or the Sharp Brains website, since they can provide a variety of new activities all the time, and importantly, increase in difficulty.

Add Something New

Try something different every day, even if it is minor, suggests Fernandez. This may mean talking to a new neighbor or colleague, taking a different route to a familiar place, shopping at a new mall or asking an unexpected question of someone.

About this Author

Assia M. Mortensen has over 12 years of experience as an editor and journalist, and has published hundreds of articles in magazines, newspapers and online at “The Santa Barbara Independent,” “Frontiers Magazine,” “805 Living Magazine,” Huffingtonpost.com, LIVESTRONG.COM and many other outlets. Mortensen graduated from the University of California in Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in literature and creative writing.