Written by: Joniel Suezo
Brain training has become a bit of a trend in recent years, with companies touting everything from super smoothies to special games to boost your cognitive performance. While many of their claims are undoubtedly exaggerated, there is some truth to the idea of participating in certain activities to improve brain health.
Your brain is a malleable organ. It can change, adapt, and improve through the creation and strengthening of neural pathways, even as you age. Whether to increase your mental muscle or stave off cognitive decline, making an effort to keep your mind sharp is a most worthwhile endeavor. Here’s what you can do to make it happen.
It should come as no surprise that physical activity has mental benefits. What helps the body helps the brain, so be sure to make exercise a regular part of your life. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours at the gym every day. Walking your dog, joining a local sports club, hiking nearby trails, or participating in yoga sessions are all great options.
Even a brisk walk will make a noticeable difference in the long run. This is thanks in part to the impact of your feet on arteries, which increases blood flow to the brain. Exercise also reduces stress and increases neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells.
There is a strong relationship between sleep and mental health. Countless studies have proven that sufficient slumber is key to maintaining your mental health and avoiding illness. Sleep also helps with mood and concentration. When you get into a deep sleep, your brain metabolizes more glucose, which improves memory and overall learning.
Have you heard about lifelong learning? It refers to the idea that our education should not stop when we leave school, and that we should dedicate time to learning new subjects and concepts well into our adult years. It makes sense, as doing this gives your brain new challenges, keeping you on your mental toes.
Learning has practical benefits as well, especially if you’re aiming to pick up a marketable skill. Perhaps you can practice with a new instrument or learn the ins and outs of a new hobby. Whatever it is, the great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with learning alone is enough to make it worthwhile.
Meditation has been used for thousands of years to clear the mind and improve overall wellbeing. Mindfulness meditation is particularly trendy right now, but anything related to it can be effective at engaging neural pathways and improving your mental flexibility. Some studies suggest that the practice can even improve working memory.
One study performed over 28 years found that socially active individuals are at lower risk of developing diseases related to cognitive decline. This is because something as simple as a chat with friends engages multiple areas of your brain and often provides a considerable challenge, especially if you pay attention to the way people interact with you.
Of course, this comes easier to some than others. If you consider yourself an introvert, perhaps you can spend some time doing volunteer work or joining a local sports group. Time with family also counts.
From building jigsaw puzzles to drawing a map of your city from memory, there are plenty of small and fun activities you can participate in to further sharpen your mind. That said, be sure to cover the above-listed fundamentals to the best of your abilities, as they play the largest role in brain health.
Brain training doesn’t have to be boring. Even dancing and playing cards are said to make a difference. However you do it, you’ll be doing something valuable for your wellbeing and development, so don’t hesitate to invest some time into keeping your mind sharp.