You are never too old to challenge and shape your brain! Regardless of your age, new and complex activities are great brain exercises. Benefits to challenging your brain include improved memory, focus, mood, and much more.
What is Brain Awareness Week?
The Brain Awareness Campaign is a worldwide celebration of the brain that brings together scientists, families, schools, and communities. Although Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is officially March 12-18, there are many ways to promote neurological health all year long.
To celebrate BAW, the brain training experts at The Brain Workshop have put together a list of fun and easy brain exercises you can do in the comforts of your home.
- Switch Hands
Switching hands is a great brain exercise. If you are left-handed, try using your non-dominant right hand for all of your daily activities. Switch hands when you brush your teeth, eat your food, write, and even when you use your computer mouse. Using your non-dominant hand increases brain activity.
Consider eating with chopsticks. Not only will they force you to think while you eat, but it causes you to eat mindfully. Mindful eating is also great for your digestion and calorie consumption. While both of these activities seem simple, they can be very challenging at first, which is why they give your brain a good mental workout.
- Complete Tasks Backwards or Upside Down
Don’t worry; this one doesn’t require you to practice headstands! Viewing things upside down or backwards is very stimulating for your brain.
Start simple by flipping your watch upside down. This will force your brain to think every time you look at your watch for the time. You can also flip calendars or clocks upside down in the office.
If you’re really adventurous, you can connect with your inner Leonardo da Vinci and master mirror writing (the ability to write backwards). Fun and challenging, completing tasks upside down or backwards is very challenging for your brain.
- Learn a new tonguePick a language, something that you always wanted to learn, and start learning. The processes involved in learning a new language is said to stimulate and improve cognitive capabilities and memory capacities.
- Read Books Aloud
Reading aloud is a great brain exercise to complete with your children and family. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), one of the earliest demonstrations of brain imaging clearly showed three distinct regions of the brain light up when the same word was heard, read, and spoken.
Reading aloud works the imagination differently. Pick your favorite book, and take turns reading a new book aloud.
- Engage in something newPick up a new hobby, a new sport, a new interest. Go out and learn to cook, or sing or maybe learn a musical instrument. Take up dancing, hiking, painting, or even knitting and sewing. Something new is always good for you, for it engages a portion of your brain that you have not used till now and thereby gives you access to a whole new stream of consciousness that you didn’t know existed.
- Let’s Get Physical
You might find this the simplest or the most difficult one, depending on how much of a morning person you are. Researchers have found that exposure to the sun’s early morning rays have a more potent effect than a cup of coffee. It is constant, free for all and needs no investment from you, except of course the waking up part. A simple 15-minute walk every morning is sure to get your grey cells working.
According to Time, research indicates that exercise improves brain health in a variety of ways. Aerobic exercise makes the heart beat faster, which improves blood flow to the brain. This blood delivers oxygen, which it needs, as the brain is the largest consumer of oxygen in the body.
Physical activity also increases levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which is known to help protect and repair brain cells from degeneration. Additionally, exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells and neurons. So hit the treadmill, go for a walk in the park, or play tag with your children – just keep moving!
In 2013, researchers at Harvard Medical School released a study showing a specific molecule released during endurance exercise that improves cognition and protects the brain against degeneration.
The study found that in addition to promoting long-term cognitive growth and development, the positive effects of physical activity go beyond physical health and cerebral capacity. The routine physical activity also helps to strengthen a wide range of life skills by improving confidence, motivation, self-esteem and overall psychological well-being.
- Skip the Navigation
Remember the good old days when we had to read maps and use our brains to get from one destination to another? In today’s climate of evolving technologies, most people use navigation apps to drive to and from work.
Using a navigation system during a routine commute puts your brain on autopilot, which generates little stimulation. Consider taking an alternate route. This will activate the cortex and hippocampus, which are responsible for the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. The cortex and hippocampus also contribute to spatial memory, which facilitates navigation.
- Turn Your Brain Off and Meditate
Of all mental exercises, meditation is thought to be the most challenging and therefore the most rewarding. Our brains are non-stop thinking machines that emit over 70,000 thoughts every day! As many as 95% of these thoughts are the same day in and day out.
Like other exercises, it’s hard work to train your mind to be quiet. Meditation is sort of like doing a pushup for your brain! Brain benefits of meditation include improved memory, stress reduction, increased attention and focus, and even reversal of brain atrophy (the loss of neurons and the connections between them).
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that chronic stress triggers “long-term changes in brain structure and function which can lead to cognitive decline.” Stress triggers the production of cortisol. High levels of cortisol caused by chronic stress can damage the brain. Meditation reduces anxiety which in turn helps to promote brain health.
Additionally, researchers found that individuals who practiced mindful meditation on a regular basis were able to adjust the brain wave that screens distractions and increase their productivity more quickly than those who did not meditate.
- The Brain is Like a Muscle
When you need to strengthen a muscle, you physically exercise to challenge that muscle to work harder than it has in the past. As your muscle works harder, strain occurs. The body’s natural response to this strain is to develop new tissue that will accommodate the strain. This new tissue makes it possible for the muscle to do things that it previously could not do. Our brain develops similarly.
Your brain is constantly changing throughout your life. As the brain continues to develop, old neural pathways are replaced with new neurological pathways. Our brain is capable of growing new neurological circuits and becomes denser as these new circuits are created. Like a muscle, with proper training, the brain can learn to perform tasks that were previously not possible. This process is called neuroplasticity.
Creativity fuels neurological growth. Neuroscientists have discovered numerous ways musical training and other artistic activities improve the function and connectivity of different regions in the brain, strengthening and improving cognitive function. Practicing a musical instrument, painting, reading and writing all strengthen the communication between brain areas and increases brain volume.
Looking for other ways to stimulate your brain and boost cognitive functioning? Contact the brain training experts at The Brain Workshop for more information. We look forward to hearing from you.