July 14th, 2008
While working out and eating right are key parts of being fit and living a long and healthy life, what many people fail to think about is the health of their brains, the organ running the whole show. Your brain needs to get a workout too in order to keep itself in tip top shape and keep you mentally healthy for the rest of your life. Here are some ways that you can give your brain a challenge and have fun at the same time.
Get your brain in shape while you get the rest of your body fit as well.
- Take your dog for a walk. Don’t take your usual route, however. Try going down a block you’re unfamiliar with, stopping to talk to others along the way, challenging yourself to name the birds you see or anything else that helps get you moving and thinking.
- Go for a jog. Running helps to boost levels of oxygen in your brain and helps your body to produce more endorphins, which will make you feel energized and happier, and what brain doesn’t love that?
- Play a sport. Playing a sport not only gets you up and running around but forces you to think on your feet (literally) and make snap decisions of where to run or throw the ball, keeping both mind and body in shape.
- Dance. Dancing is a fun way to get some exercise. Try learning a new dance to challenge your brain to remember the steps or find a partner for some dance floor socializing.
- Throw a ball around. Working on improving a sensory-guided movement like throwing and catching a ball can improve your brain’s visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses and keep them sharp well into old age.
Many foods have a big impact on your brain, so try these tasty dishes to improve your mental abilities.
- Eat a variety of foods. Cooking yourself a rainbow of different foods can help keep your brain healthy for years to come. A varied diet provides numerous vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are needed to keep your brain in top shape.
- Make some blueberry pancakes. Or just enjoy the blueberries by themselves. Either way, these brain boosting berries can have a big impact on your mind. Studies have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of brain impairing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as well as improving the learning capacity and motor skills of older test subjects.
- Drink pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice isn’t only a delicious treat — it can also help keep your brain up and running smoothly. It contains loads of antioxidants which protect the brain from the damage of free radicals.
- Have some sweet potatoes. Whether you enjoy them in a pie, as fries, or in any other form, sweet potatoes can be a great brain boosting food. These tubers, like carrots and spinach contain beta carotene which has been shown to improve brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Drink water. Refreshing yourself with a cold glass of water can be a great and fulfilling way to keep your brain at its best. Like all organs in your body, the brain needs water to function properly, so keeping it hydrated is key.
- Enjoy some guacamole. Eating avocados can be a great way to improve your brain health, as they contain monounsaturated fats which improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. Hypertension is a risk factor for a decline in mental abilities, so any foods that lower this risk should help you out.
- Brew a cup of tea. Two to three cups a day of freshly brewed tea, whether hot or iced, can help enhance your memory and improve your mood and focus. Tea contains contains caffeine which when used in small amounts can be a great way to boost your brain power.
- Eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast that is. Eating cereals or toasts that contain whole grains can give you a great morning boost. They help keep your whole body healthy, especially your heart, which is incredibly important to keep blood and oxygen pumping to your brain.
- Eat dark chocolate. Indulge your chocolate cravings and improve your brain health by eating some tasty dark chocolate. Chocolate triggers the systems in your brain that pump dopamine. These systems enable learning and memory, and having a bit of chocolate can boost these, keeping your brain fit and happy.
Don’t just sit around the house, get out and try these fun ways to keep your brain in shape.
- Visit a museum. A visit to a local museum can be a great way to challenge your brain and have a good time. Try challenging yourself to remember everything you saw and relate it to a friend or in a journal later on. Activities that force the brain to receive, remember and think hard help prevent mental decline and improve brain function.
- Memorize a song. Listening to music is not only something that’s enjoyable — it can also be a way to work out your brain. Choose a song you don’t know and work at memorizing the lyrics. Focusing on listening to the song will boost the levels of acetylcholine in your brain, improving your memory abilities.
- Go exploring. There are likely places in your own community or neighborhood that you haven’t fully explored. Seeing new things can be a great way to help your mind think about new things, and it can be a fun way to spend an afternoon so long as you don’t get lost.
- Take a trip. Experiencing new cultures, trying new foods and seeing historical places engages many parts of the brain and keeps it active and sharp, especially if you’re attempting to speak a foreign language on your trip.
- Play with a pet. Playing with a pet can make you happy, get you moving and help ease feelings of loneliness and unhappiness. A happy mind is a healthy one.
- Meet up with friends. Social interaction forms a big part of long term brain health. Those with weak social relationships have been shown in studies to have higher incidences of mental illnesses than those who maintain close social bonds.
- Go see something funny. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. Cognitively complex humor forces you to think and makes you happy, allowing you to have fun and pump up your brain power at the same time.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. Humans are social animals, and we need social interactions to help keep us mentally healthy. Talking with family and friends, especially those that provide mental stimulation and discussion, can be a great way to form a strong social network that can help keep you healthy for a long time.
Games and Hobbies
There’s no excuse to be bored with so many brain worthy games and hobbies out there to pursue.
- Play a video game. While it may not seem like much of a challenge, playing certain video games can actually be good for your mental health. Choose games that require strategy or problem solving or check out some that are designed specifically to challenge your brain.
- Play a board or card game. Whether you challenge a kid to game of checkers or play poker with your friends, these kind of games are great for the brain. They challenge your memory and test your math and logic skills.
- Play pool. Pick up a pool cue and get to playing a game to improve your brain health. Players must think ahead to their next moves, strategize and concentrate in order to win, giving the brain a quick and fun workout.
- Get on the greens. Golf not only gets your body moving but also allows you to engage socially with others. It also can improve mind-body coordination and uses brain power to plan shots and make decisions.
- Do a jigsaw puzzle. Puzzles are a fun and challenging way to get your brain working. You will have to think ahead, see things conceptually, and analyze things visually. Get additional benefits by working on the puzzle with a friend.
- Do a crossword. Crossword puzzles can help to boost your recall skills while improving your cognitive abilities and creative thinking. Plus, you’ll feel great when you finish a puzzle.
- Build a model. Or if you’re not into building models, choose another activity like jewelry making or photography that requires close concentration and understanding of the process of construction. Focusing on the task can engage the brain and can also be a lot of fun.
- Pursue a hobby. No matter what you’re into, whether it’s cars or gardening, pursuing a hobby can be a great deal of fun. It can also be a wonderful way to work your brain. Study up on new aspects of your hobby, concentrate on a certain task or meet with others who share your interests to get the most brain work out of your hobby.
Keep your brain busy throughout your life with these learning opportunities.
- Learn to play a musical instrument. Or just play one you already know how to play. Music can be very challenging to the brain as it recalls how to play the instrument, read music and keep up with the tempo of the song.
- Read a book. Whether you read fluff or classic literature, reading a book can be a great and fun way to boost your mental abilities. Reading helps you exercise your cognitive skills and increases your vocabulary, not to mention providing a great way to relax.
- Watch an art film. Watching a movie that requires your full concentration to understand can be a great way to engage your brain while learning more about art and culture. Read literature about the film after you’ve seen it and think about your own responses to it to further boost the mental benefits.
- Debate. A friendly debate over the pros and cons of an issue can be a great way to keep you thinking on your feet as well as improving your logic and creativity. You’ll also get the benefits of interacting socially with someone, whether it be a friend or a coworker.
- Create mind maps. Sometimes laying out your ideas on paper can be a great way to get your brain up and moving and out of a mental rut. Force yourself to connect ideas and to think outside the box when brainstorming.
- Sign up for a daily. Whether you get a daily newsletter or just sign up for a word of the day in your inbox, this daily mental stimulation will help boost your memory, increase your mental stimulation and if nothing else help you sound smarter in conversation.
- Take a class. Learning something new can be a great way to challenge your brain and force it to think in new ways. Whether it’s learning about what wine to have with dinner or learning how to do roundhouse kicks, classes will force your brain to retain new information and assimilate new ideas and concepts.
- Learn a new language. While not everyone considers learning a language fun, it can be a great way to give your brain one heck of a workout. Acquiring a new language will help keep your brain flexible and your memory and recall skills sharp. Plus, it can be a great skill to have on your next vacation.
Stress can have an incredibly negative impact on the brain, so try these tips to relax.
- Meditate. Meditation helps to focus the brain and helps reduce the harmful effects of too much stress. Best of all, you can do it anywhere.
- Sleep in. Getting a few extra hours of sleep if you’ve stayed up late can help rejuvenate you and improve your mental abilities. So enjoy resting just a little bit longer on Saturday mornings.
- Do yoga. Yoga can be a great workout for your body, but it can also give your mind a chance to relax and recover from stress. Try taking a class or doing yoga at home to calm your mind and train it to concentrate on breathing and movements rather than worries.
- Express your spirituality. Studies have shown the embracing a faith or spiritual belief, no matter what that may be, can help reduce stress and can have many mental benefits.
- Try tai chi. Tai Chi can be a great way to get your body moving but also to relax and force your mind to concentrate on each movement in turn.
- Take a nap. If you’re feeling run down and mentally numb, a quick nap may be just what you need. Even just 20 minutes of sleep can leave you refreshed, physically and mentally.
Make your brain workouts a personal challenge with these suggestions.
- Use your peripheral vision. Next time you’re waiting for the bus or hanging out at a cafe, try this mental exercise. Look straight ahead and note everything you can see both in front of you and in your peripheral vision. Challenge yourself to recall everything and write it down. This will force you to use your memory and boost the levels of acetylcholine, a chemical essential to focus and memory.
- Turn down the TV. Turn down your TV so that you can barely hear what is being said, and challenge yourself to listen intently to what is going on. this intense focus will challenge your brain, and it can also help improve your listening abilities.
- Take it up a notch. Take an activity you already do to work your brain like doing a crossword puzzle or a sudoku and take it up a notch. See if you can complete it faster or more thoroughly than you were able to do before.
- Try using your other hand. Most people can only use one of their hands with any degree of coordination, so make a game of using your other hand to do things like write, draw and do small tasks. This is a huge challenge for your brain as it adapts to using a part of your body differently than it’s used to.
- Combine activities. Instead of just taking a morning jog, why not take a morning jog while listening to an audio book? Combining activities forces your brain to work at doing more in the same amount of time, giving you a great mental and physical workout.
- Break your patterns. If you find yourself doing the same things, day after day, it may be time for a change. Brain health depends on novelty and the acquisition of new or different information, so change up your routines now and then to keep your brain on its figurative toes.
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