The brain acts a lot like muscles in the body. And just like muscles, it needs its exercise. The more you work out your brain, the better it functions. So what can you do to work out your brain? Here are 21 things you can do today to work out your brain:
1) Give your calculator a break.
Modern devices, such as the calculator, have taken over many of the tasks we used to do with our brains. Instead of doing math problems in our heads, we have come to rely on calculators and other technological devices that serve as a substitute. Working out your brain can be as simple as doing mental calculations in your head. Give your calculator a well-deserved break. Doing math manually trains your working memory—-the memory used to store information for immediate use.
2) Turn off your GPS and start navigating.
The use of GPS is killing our spatial intelligence. Instead of letting the GPS tell you which direction you should go, sharpen your map-reading skills. Just remember to bring a map before you get lost on purpose. A study done in 2000 showed that London taxi drivers showed a tremendous growth in the size of gray matter in the hippocampus when compared to bus drivers (which were the control group). The hippocampus serves to help us with spatial navigation, memory, and learning. The conclusion is that the necessity of always navigating and finding routes enabled the brain to create new neural pathways which allows the brain transform in response to the need to store complex spatial representations.
3) Pick up a foreign language.
Anyone who’s tried learning a foreign language will tell you just how much of a workout it is for anyone’s brain. Starting from square one on studying words, sentence composition, and grammar will be challenging enough to keep your brain from getting rusty. Learning a new language enlarges your hippocampus, which helps with long-term memory, learning, and spatial navigation. MRI scans have shown that learning a new language also enlarges the cerebral cortex—which is divided into four lobes and is responsible for such functions as reasoning, planning, speech, movement, emotion, problem solving, recognition, perception, visual processing, and memory.
4) Challenge your friends to a chess tournament.
Chess is one of the most challenging games out there. It requires you to think a few steps ahead about your moves and the strategy you plan to employ. It isn’t a coincidence that there is a strong correlation between a beginning chess player being good at chess and a high IQ. If chess isn’t enough of an exercise for your brain, then few things will be.
5) Solve a puzzle.
There are plenty of mind-boggling puzzles you can attempt such as Sudoku, crosswords, anagrams, and the like. You may think you’re too old to indulge in such pastimes, but no one is too old to improve their brain functions! Other types of puzzle you can try are logic puzzles and lateral thinking puzzles. Logic puzzles helps your brain deductive reasoning and teaches you to organize your thinking. Lateral thinking puzzles trains your brain to think outside the box.
6) Read different types of literature and books from a variety of genres.
Reading is one of the simplest ways to provide stimulation to your brain. To make things even more interesting, don’t stick to your usual reading materials. If you’re used to devouring lighthearted fictional books, try reading non-fiction publications. Get out of your comfort zone. Your brain will thank you for it.
Besides reading books on vastly unfamiliar topics, brain scientists recommend reading good mystery novels. This is because a good mystery novel relies on you to develop and put your working memory and prefrontal cortext to work so that you are able to store all the information needed to keep up with the novel, and hopefully solve the mystery. Dr. Robert Sylwester recommends mystery novels from Stieg Larsson and Kur Wallender.
7) Commit a poem to memory.
Mathematical functions aren’t the only thing you should focus on. You should also work on sharpening your memory, and this can be done by regularly exercising your powers of recall. Memorizing a poem or a song is a good way to do it.
8) Make up stories.
This isn’t to say that you should fabricate lies. Instead, try writing a story or two. Telling stories enhances your creativity and imagination. It also enables you to learn how to think on the spot and improvise.
9) Learn a few new words daily.
The average adult has a vocabulary of 30,000 words. But no matter how fluent you are in your native tongue, there are bound to be words in the dictionary you don’t know the definition of. So make a resolution to learn at least 2-3 new words every day, and stick to that resolution. In addition to memorizing the definition, try to use the words in regular conversation for best retention.
10) Favor writing over typing.
Times New Roman and Arial might look neater than your handwriting, but that shouldn’t stop you from penning love notes to your partner or even just writing a list of grocery items to buy. Recent research shows that writing by hand engages the brain in learning a new language, especially if the written language is vastly different from your native tongue (i.e., learning Mandarin when one’s native tongue is English).
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Netflix enthusiast, horrible speller, jiujitsu hobbyist, weekend drinker, and occasional poker player. Favorite quote is “[o]ut of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”