October 10, 2018

5 Brain Exercises to Keep You Sharp

A model brain sits next to exercise weights. Metaphor for heavyweight intellects, or a reminder that exercise helps your circulation, so as well as keeping your body fit, it also keeps you mentally active. Double bonus!
5 Exercises to Keep Your Brain Sharp


Saturday, Oct. 13th is National Train Your Brain Day! In honor of this heady holiday, here are some valuable tricks and tips you can use to keep your brain fast, fit, and fired up. Like much of our bodies, brainpower can be a game of “use it or lose it.” Just as it’s important to continue going to the gym and staying active throughout our lives, exercising our mind muscle is just as critical to help keep our brains sharp, especially as we age. The good news is there are simple brain exercises that can help keep your mind firing on all cylinders for years to come. In fact, you may already be doing some of these brain-enriching activities without realizing that you’re also helping to maintain your brain power.


Brain Exercise #1: Read

This may seem like a no-brainer (pun intended), but reading engages our minds in a variety of ways. It doesn’t matter what you like to read, whether it’s sci-fi, high fantasy, murder mysteries or non-fiction in your fields of interest. Read anything and everything, as much as you can. This will help your brain engage with new ideas, spark your imagination, and more. Reading is also a great way to renew and refresh your analytical thinking skills. Reading has many benefits, and you should work to make it a lifelong habit. Whether you’re a die-hard library fan or find it simpler to roll with your e-reader or phone, this brain exercise is portable and vital to maintaining a healthy, active mind.


Brain Exercise #2: Craft

When you create something with your own two hands, you use your brain to ideate, follow instructions, and problem-solve. Research by the Mayo Clinic has shown that knitting and other handcrafts can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment,[i] while other studies have shown that crafting can help improve memory, enhance social skills, and promote mindfulness as well as helping you generally manage stress.[ii] This type of brain exercise can include knitting, crochet, sewing, woodworking, leather tooling, and many other types of creative crafting, so experiment to find one that speaks to you. If you can’t find classes or craft groups near you, consider mining YouTube videos and other online resources.

Research by the Mayo Clinic has shown that knitting and other handcrafts can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment. Share on X

Brain Exercise #3: Learn a Language

Learning another language is a great way to exercise your brain. The challenges of mastering another language can give your memory a workout in addition to activating the language centers of your brain — not to mention helping you out when you travel! Even if you don’t become fluent in your chosen language, you will probably have some cultural knowledge and basic vocabulary to help you navigate everyday interactions the next time you’re abroad. And don’t forget to think outside the language box: you could learn coding languages or American Sign Language and communicate in new-to-you ways.

Learning another language is a great way to exercise your brain. The challenges of mastering another language can give your memory a workout in addition to activating the language centers of your brain. Share on X

Brain Exercise #4: Games

Even if Sudoku isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other games out there that can double as brain exercises. Crossword puzzles, matching games, and memory games are just some examples of more traditional games you can find in convenient workbooks. (Whether you use pen or pencil is up to you!) You can also find a huge selection of free game apps that will challenge your brain with mazes, color gradient sorting, and other unique puzzles to solve. Don’t rule out video games, either! Studies have shown that educational games and video games can help improve brain function, structure and cognitive ability.[iii]


Brain Exercise #5: Exercise

Yes, exercising your body can help keep your mind healthy, too. Learning new skills and building familiar ones will help give your mind a workout while the rest of you benefits from exercise endorphins (not to mention burning calories, improving heart health and more). In fact, studies have shown that physical activity can help protect us against cognitive decline and dementia later in life.[iv] See whether your local community center or gyms offer classes and pursue that activity you always wanted to try, be it archery, cycling, salsa dancing, or whatever appeals most to you!


Brain exercises can be as simple as increasing activities you do anyway (like reading or playing games), or they can be new challenges for your mind and body. Keeping your mind sharp is important as you age, but it can also help you stay on the ball in times of high stress. Whether you’re pursuing a high stakes sales job or simply navigating your busy life, brain exercises are a great way to give yourself an edge.


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[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3204924/

[ii] https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/the-health-benefits-of-knitting/

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4513287/

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440589/