Boost Your Brainpower - Exercises for a Healthy Brain
It’s not just your muscles that degenerate over time our brains can waste away too. In particular, the brain’s cognitive reserve ( your brain's ability to improvise and problem solve) starts to slow down as you age, causing memory loss and makes it much harder to perform mental tasks.
So, when you next go for a physical workout don’t forget your brain also needs targeted exercises to increase its cognitive reserve and remain sharp. The great news is brain exercises can be easily integrated into your daily life. - no gym membership needed!
We share our tips and exercises for a healthy brain:
- Get a move on- walking to prevent against Dementia and boost the brain. A study following more than 1700 adults for over six years found those who exercise for 15 minutes, three times a week reduced their risk for dementia by one third.
- Eat well-including a well-balanced diet low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in antioxidants to protect brain tissue. We tend to worry more about our waistlines when we eat rather than our brain health. However, diets containing healthy foods rich in vitamins and nutrients may protect cognitive decline as you age. To make a start include omega three fatty acids, flavonoids and vitamin E. Foods high in Omega three include salmon, eggs, walnuts, and leafy greens. Almost all fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids these foods reduce heart disease and increased the connection between neurons which have been found to be disrupted in dementia patients. Vitamin E which is found in nuts, seeds, oils and leafy greens has been found to delay the progression of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
- Real world activities-exercises to strengthen brain function should be novel and challenging. Almost anything goes, for example using the opposite hand to clean your teeth, using your non-dominant hand strengthens your mind because you’re creating a challenge for your brain. Try taking a new route home and then draw the map with all the streets and name them. Memorise lyrics to a song without the music, which is much harder to do. The harder the task the more effective they are.
- Seek out Sudoku and crosswords - these challenging mental games can be found in most newspapers. Sudoku is a popular brain game that helps improve short-term memory and concentration by following trails of numbers. Crosswords are great for accessing verbal language and memory.
- Sense a new cuisine- challenge yourself to learn a new style of cooking. As cooking uses most of the senses it will involve different parts of the brain. This is particularly good for older individuals as your taste starts to decline after you turn 50. Trying new foods may make meals more enticing.
- Challenge yourself- make a list of items such as groceries write them down memorise it and then see how many groceries you can recall an hour later. The more challenging the items on the list the greater the mental stimulation will be.
- Refine your hand eye coordination- this may involve taking up a new hobby such as painting, knitting, crochet, drawing or any other activity that involves fine motor skills. In a large study of more than 3,500 knitters, over 80% of those with depression reported feeling happy when they knitted.
- Learning a new language- starting a new language involves listening and hearing which stimulates the brain. Studies have shown that a higher level of vocabulary can protect against cognitive impairment. Researchers have found that only those who’ve learned a new skill experienced improvement on memory tests.
- Learn new sports or hobbies- whether it’s an exercise combining both mind and body such as tennis, yoga, tai chi or learning to play a musical instrument studies have found learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for an ageing mind.
- Figure it out in your head- instead of reaching for a calculator or a pencil instead start to figure out problems in your head and increase the challenge by walking at the same time.
Increased focus and concentration
Faster thinking and reaction time
There is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that certain types of activities can be beneficial for your brain’s health. As you learn new things you can both create and strengthen neural pathways. In turn this makes your brain stronger and more flexible. Routine provides very little stimulation for the brain by proactively seeking out new activities will be the key to a healthier, sharper mind.