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Exercising your brain: 6 ways to build mental fitness

Posted January 24, 2022 by Dr. James R Bavis

person playing sudoku on a cell phone

Just as our bodies require care and exercise over the course of our life, so do our brains — especially as we age. Lifting weights strengthens our muscles, while strengthening our mental “muscles” improves our memory, attention, brain speed, people skills, intelligence and navigation.

The key is variety. Similarly when we exercise our body, if doing something becomes too easy, it’s time to make a change to build brainpower. The more something is second nature, the less our brain has to work to do it.

For example, if you can do a crossword puzzle in record time, it’s time to increase the difficulty level to challenge yourself and get the best work out for your brain.

People of all ages can benefit from incorporating a few brain exercises into their lives to stay mentally sharp for the long haul. All it takes is a few minutes each day. Studies have found it’s most beneficial to work on these exercises a little bit each day, instead of spending a few hours each week.

Summa Health offers 6 ways to reach your desired mental fitness level, in addition to a balanced diet and regular physical activity. These exercises can improve just about everything in your life because, if you think about it, your brain is at the core of everything you do.

Play games

Doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku games, jigsaw puzzles and other games that rely on logic, math, word and visuospatial skills are great ways to increase brainpower. These types of games require multiple cognitive abilities, which challenges your brain and improves processing speed and memory. Now you know it’s OK, even healthy, for adults to carve out a few minutes each day to play games.

Read a variety of books

Books are filled with interesting characters, infinite information and facts. Challenge your brain by reading a variety of topics, from historical fiction to contemporary classics to romance. Your brain will get a workout imagining different time periods, cultures and people, while learning new things and building vocabulary. Plus, you’ll be developing interesting stories to share with others.

Use all your senses

Try incorporating activities that simultaneously engage all five of your senses, from taking a cooking class to visiting a farmer’s market or food festival to trying a new restaurant. Using all your senses helps to strengthen your brain by focusing on smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing all at the same time.

Daily meditation

Meditation is known to calm your body, slow your breathing and reduce stress and anxiety. But, what you may not know is daily meditation also can improve your memory and processing power. By creating a calm mental state, you engage your brain in new and interesting ways. All it takes is stealing five minutes each day to meditate in a quiet spot.

Learn a new skill

No matter your age, your brain is capable of learning new skills at any point in your life. It’s a great way to strengthen brain connections because when you learn a new skill, you work multiple areas of your brain. For example, your memory comes into play, your brain learns new movements and you associate things differently.

Learning to play an instrument, building a ship in a bottle, learning new dance moves or a new language all challenge your brain in new ways and can add something fun and interesting to your life, to boot.

Then, once you’ve learned the new skill, teach it to someone else. It’s one of the best ways to expand your learning — and brainpower.

Train your brain

Brain training has become a popular exercise in recent years. From formal courses, online programs and books, people are realizing the benefits of training their brains to sharpen response times and attention.  

One example program is called BrainHQ. It’s a brain-training program that offers dozens of brain exercises designed to improve memory, attention, brain speed, intelligence, navigation and communication. BrainHQ works by continually measuring your performance to serve up exercises that are tailored for you. The exercises take less than 5 minutes and can be done at home using your computer or phone.

The old adage rings true: “You don’t use it, you lose it.” Whichever exercises you choose, focusing on your brain health has been proven to improve your concentration, focus, memory and mental agility, no matter your age. Hey, you may even learn something new and enriching along the way.

James R Bavis, MD

James R Bavis, MD

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