“When information goes ‘in one ear and out the other,’ it’s often because it doesn’t have anything to stick to.”— Joshua Foer
We know that exercising your body is important for your health, but cognitive exercises are also important for keeping your mind sharp and preventing memory loss. In addition to consuming a healthy diet, exercising your brain can help to train it and sustain it for the long haul.
You don’t need fancy apps and games to do so either. Exercises to strengthen brain function can be as simple as brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, or driving home on a different route than you normally would. Brain-strengthening activities should offer novelty and challenge. “Almost any silly suggestion can work,” says David Eagleman, PhD, a neuroscientist and adjunct professor of psychology and public mental health and population sciences at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University in California. “The brain works through associations, [which is why it’s easier to memorize lyrics than it is to try to remember the same words without music], so the more senses you involve, the better.”
Here are some activities you can do to help keep your brain razor-sharp!
- Start with the morning paper or phone app! Crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other words games challenge your mind and keep it from getting lazy.
- Engage your taste buds. While you are eating, close your eyes and try to be mindful of each ingredient of the meal you are eating. Try Alicia’s Mindful Eating Meditation.
- Learn a new language. A rich vocabulary has been linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline, according to a Spanish study published in October 2014 in the journal Annals of Psychology.
- Do math in your head. We tend to rely on computers too much anyway, so try some long division without the aid of a calculator or even a pencil!
- Practice your hand-eye coordination. Take up a new hobby, like knitting or painting.
- Enroll in a cooking class. Cooking uses a number of senses — smell, touch, sight, and taste — all of which involve different parts of the brain.
- Memorize a list. Make a grocery list or a to do list. Write it down and try to memorize it. Then, see how much of it you can remember an hour later.
- Create a memory palace. Before we had smart devices, if you wanted information at your fingertips, you first had to implant it in your mind. The memory palace is a technique that has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. The idea is to change your memories into images placed in a familiar mental location. Then you can mentally walk through your Palace looking at your memories to recall them. We highly recommend Joshua Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein, which is his account of investigating the science of memory.
Robert Bender, MD, chief of the Geriatric and Memory Center at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa predicts that preventing brain disease will soon become as imperative as preventing heart disease. “In the coming decade, I predict brain wellness to be right up there with heart health, now that there’s proof that living a brain-healthy lifestyle works!”
Martin, Roger. Forward Thinking, The Knowledge Project. https://fs.blog/2016/11/the-memory-palace/
Melone, Linda. Brain Exercises That Boost Memory. Everyday Health. 2020. https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/mental-fitness/brain-exercises-for-memory.aspx