10 Brain Exercises That Boost Memory
Keep your brain as healthy and fit as your body with these simple tips.
We don’t just lose muscle over time — our brains can atrophy, too. More specifically, your brain’s cognitive reserve — its ability to withstand neurological damage due to aging and other factors without showing visible signs of slowing or memory loss — diminishes through the years. That can make it more difficult to perform mental tasks. But just as weight workouts add lean muscle to your body and help you retain more muscle in your later years, researchers now believe that following a brain-healthy lifestyle and performing regular, targeted brain exercises can also increase your brain’s cognitive reserve.
The Healthy Brain: A Multifaceted Approach
In addition to good nutrition, regular exercise can promote vascular health to help protect brain tissue. Avoiding ruts and boredom is also critical. “The brain wants to learn new things,” says Dr. Bender, noting that some researchers believe that people are more vulnerable to dementia when they pay less attention to the things around them. “When the brain is passive, it has a tendency to atrophy,” he adds. For this reason, sedentary and relatively passive activities, such as sitting in front of a TV for hours a day, can be detrimental to brain health over time.
10 Real-World Brain Exercises That Work
Experts recommend sticking to brain training that involves real-world activities. Exercises to strengthen brain function should offer novelty and challenge.
Your morning newspaper is a great place to start. “Simple games like Sudoku and word games are good, as well as comic strips where you find things that are different from one picture to the next,” says John E. Morley, MD, director of St. Louis University’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and author of The Science of Staying Young. In addition to word games, Dr. Morley recommends the following exercises to sharpen your mental skills:
- Test your recall. Make a list — of grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind — and memorize it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall. Make items on the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.
- Let the music play. Learn to play a musical instrument or join a choir. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for the aging mind.
- Do math in your head. Figure out problems without the aid of pencil, paper, or computer; you can make this more difficult — and athletic — by walking at the same time.
- Take a cooking class. Learn how to cook a new cuisine. Cooking uses a number of senses: smell, touch, sight, and taste, which all involve different parts of the brain.
- Learn a foreign language. The listening and hearing involved stimulates the brain. What’s more, a rich vocabulary has been linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline.
- Create word pictures. Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of any other words that begin (or end) with the same two letters.
- Draw a map from memory. After returning home from visiting a new place, try to draw a map of the area; repeat this exercise each time you visit a new location.
- Challenge your taste buds. When eating, try to identify individual ingredients in your meal, including subtle herbs and spices.
- Refine your hand-eye abilities. Take up a new hobby that involves fine-motor skills, such as knitting, drawing, painting, assembling a puzzle, etc.
- Learn a new sport. Start doing an athletic exercise that utilizes both mind and body, such as yoga, golf, or tennis.