When you think of exercise, you may think of typical forms such as running, cycling, or going to the gym. Exercise usually equates to training your body. However, not many people realize the importance of training your brain. So let’s introduce you to some great “cognitive exercise” practices and why it is so important.
What are cognitive exercises, and why should you do them?
Cognitive exercises – or brain training – is a form of exercise in which you stimulate your brain. Instead of strengthening your muscles, these kinds of exercises strengthen your brain. In simple terms: this will help to keep your brain sharp.
Aside from improving your brain’s overall health, these exercises help to improve a variety of individual cognitive functions. Our brains can become slower as we age, making cognitive exercises all the more important as we go through life. Brain training can help improve things like concentration, memory, and reaction time.
What kind of cognitive exercises are there?
Cognitive exercises come in many forms. When you think of brain training, you may think of complex activities or games that require you to think long and hard. While memory, analytical and logical games are all classic examples of cognitive exercises, many people do not realize that a variety of simple, everyday tasks are also classified as cognitive exercises. You don’t always need to download an app or purchase sudoku puzzles to stimulate your brain.
Here are some examples of cognitive exercises that you can do daily. For many of these, you can use things that you may already have around the house. For some, you don’t need anything at all.
Everyone knows that dancing is a great cardio workout, however, it also serves as an effective way to stimulate your brain. Learning new movements can be tricky. It causes you to think and use your brain in a more creative way. It also improves your brain’s speed, since you have to concentrate on quickly going from one movement to another.
There are numerous dance categories, almost too many to keep track of but all of them come with health benefits. Anything from Zumba and hip-hop to ballroom or line dancing makes for a great brain workout.
Build a Puzzle
Building a puzzle of any kind requires you to analyze different pieces and figure out how they go together. This is one of the best exercises to stimulate your brain since you are required to use both the right and left sides of your brain at the same time. The left side of your brain is what helps you to think logically and analyze the pieces. The right side of your brain allows you to think creatively and see the picture as a whole.
Other benefits include stress-relief and improvement of your short-term memory.
Not only are card games loads of fun, but they also require a high level of concentration. Card games can improve your thinking and memory skills in a way that is fun and engaging. There are various games to choose from such as bridge, rummy, poker, and crazy eights.
Make sure to play with friends and family, you might even get a good laugh out of it (which is always great for your heart health, too). If you are unable to play with friends and family, you can opt for some solo card games like Klondike and solitaire. You can also download card games on your computer or smartphone, which makes setting up a lot easier.
Use Your Other Hand
Using your non-dominant hand for day-to-day activities is a great way to give your brain a workout. Whether you are dominant with your right or left hand, using your weaker hand to do things like writing, throwing a ball, or even using a fork requires a lot of concentration. Your brain practically has to teach itself to do these things comfortably. This can be very challenging, which is the reason why it will strengthen your brain.
Learn a New Language
Learning a new language requires a lot of remembering. You need to absorb a lot of information, practice it, and then remember everything you’ve learned. Of course, learning a new language is probably one of the hardest things you can do, but it is for this reason that it is so beneficial to your brain. It also gives you opportunities to practice your speaking and concentration skills. Practicing a language has been said to benefit those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Speaking two languages will help improve your brain’s ability to change from one task to another. Choose any language that you have always wanted to speak – whether you will use it often or not – and try and practice it for at least twenty minutes daily. There are numerous language apps and programs you can download on your smartphone or computer.
Take a Walk
Apart from the benefits that it has on your body, taking a walk can be very calming and promotes a greater sense of independence. People often say that they are going to take a walk to clear their heads. This phrase has some truth to it since a good walk or hike can be physically and mentally rejuvenating. You may find that you feel more energized and that you can think more clearly after a walk on a beautiful day.
If you can, try and regularly change your route. Seeing new things and getting to know a new route will further stimulate your brain.
Meditation and Prayer
Much like taking a walk, meditation is restorative and rejuvenating. As relaxing as meditation can be, it still requires high levels of concentration. Meditating or prayer relieves stress and will help you to focus on your thoughts. You may even discover something about your inner self. It has even been said to influence your brain’s reaction to pain.
Listen to (or make!) Music
There are countless benefits to listening to music. It can reduce stress and anxiety, lower your blood pressure and improve your memory. And, of course, it makes you feel good. Listening to music is a lot more complicated for your brain than you may think. Your brain needs to decipher between different notes and words even though all you are consciously doing is listening. When you listen to the same music over a period of time, your brain will memorize it without you even thinking about it.
Making music also requires a lot of concentration and memorization all while tapping into your creative side. If you already know how to play one or more instruments, practicing and learning new songs is a great workout for your brain. If you don’t know how to play an instrument, it’s never too late to learn. You can take some lessons, or you can teach yourself.
Increase Your Vocabulary
If you are not interested in learning a new language, learning more about your native language can be just as beneficial. If you come across words that you do not know, write them down and look them up. Once you understand the meaning of a new word, try and write down a few sentences using this new word. This will help you to understand the exact meaning of the word while making sure that you use it in the correct context. Similar to learning a new language, improving your native vocabulary promotes your memory and concentration.
Are brain-training games good for you?
App-based brain training games are challenging and have many of the same benefits as the activities listed above. These games usually have categories in which you can choose which brain functions you would like to improve. The games are also fun and can have some competitiveness to them.
However, they can become somewhat addictive and cause you to stare at a screen for an unhealthy amount of time. If you enjoy these games but find that they keep you occupied for long periods, try and incorporate some of the above exercises and divide your training time between different activities. A change in routine every now and then can be beneficial to your brain.
As we get older, it is common to notice some of our brain functions like memory and cognitive agility are not quite as sharp as they were a couple of years ago. This is a natural occurrence. Exercising your brain can help to counteract many of these effects. Learn something new, spend time outdoors or play a game of cards with your friends and loved ones. These activities can improve many of our brain and body functions, without even making you feel as though you are exercising!