A brain-healthy lifestyle can help offset memory loss and increase your mind’s cognitive abilities, and here’s why that’s important.
So much attention is paid to our physical well being — workout regimens, hard-wired diets…you name it — that mental health is often overlooked, or, at the very least, pushed to the side in the face of a hectic lifestyle.
The daily grind is something we can all relate to on some level, and though maintaining a gym membership — or any hobby, for that matter — can be next to impossible while juggling kids, pets and a 9-to-5 job, researchers have identified a number of quick and easy brain exercises that can help offset memory loss and ultimately enhance your thinking and word skills.
Ageing is inevitable, of course, and it’s long been proven that a healthy, balanced diet lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes, all the while boosting brain and memory function so that you can still entertain the grandkids long into your twilight years. Avoiding ruts and boredom is also critical, and below you’ll find a list of simple tips and training exercises that can help get the neurons firing — because we don’t just lose muscle with age, our brains can atrophy too. Forget aerobics; this is neurobics!
1) Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand
It may feel a bit daft at first, but research has shown that brushing with your opposite hand stimulates brain function by offering novelty and challenge. The human mind works by association — hence why students are often encouraged to create lyrical jingles to help memorise tough equations — so the more senses you involve, the better.
2) Complete a recall test
You’ve heard of ol’ Saint Nicholas making a list and checking it twice, but when it comes to mental stimulation, jotting down and then attempting to memorise a grocery (or Christmas!) list can be wildly effective. Before your next trip to Tesco, draft up a to-do list and see how much you can remember. And no cheating! This is all about giving your noggin a good workout.
3) Shower with your eyes closed
This comes back to our recommendation about using your non-dominant hand to brush your pearly whites. By showering with your eyes closed, you’re calling upon tactile senses that would otherwise be dormant during your daily wash — touch, balance, smell, even hearing — so that the brain maps out your surroundings, all without seeing a damn thing. Just be sure you’re able-bodied and confident in your own bathroom — safety first, after all.
4) Try your hand at another language
It may seem daunting at first, but learning a second language, even if it’s simple greetings and gestures, has a marked effect on brain activity. There is a wealth of online options available — from handy guides to audio tutorials, the list is endless — and the listening and learning involved with sampling a new language is a fantastic mental workout that will help bolster your vocabulary. And if you happen to be bilingual, you’ll know all about auditory clues and stimulating the brain’s language centres.
5) Take a cooking class
Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a lapsed expert or a total newbie, partaking in a cooking class stimulates all of the body’s primary senses on a silver platter — smell, touch, sight and, crucially, taste. It’s also a great opportunity to socialise with people beyond your comfort zone (another big plus in the realm of mental health), while most local cookery schools also cater for all ages and abilities.
6) Lose yourself in music
Whether it’s taking time to indulge in a different genre or trying your hand at a entirely new instrument, the sound of music is incredibly beneficial in that it releases dopamine (AKA the “feel good hormone”) in the brain. Listening to Mozart, for example, has also been proven to reduce the body’s stress levels, while actively playing an instrument jump-starts concentration levels. It’s the mental equivalent of a cross-training workout, according to new research.
7) Refine hand-eye coordination
Though eyes tend to be the first body part to show signs of wear and tear, hand-eye coordination (read: dexterity) isn’t too far behind. And though there are a number of horrible illnesses that can affect fine motor skills — Arthritis and Parkinson's Disease included — research has whittled down a list of passive hobbies that can help improve hand-eye coordination. They include painting, knitting, and assembling puzzles. Even some of the more casual video games out there can help fine-tune your motor skills.
8) Indulge in unfamiliar foods
This goes hand-in-hand with enrolling in a local cookery class. Everyone has a favourite dish — hell, comfort food is practically what Sundays are all about. But by actively challenging your taste buds with a range of different ingredients, you’re literally opening up new avenues for your brain to explore, and the novel odors may evoke unexpected feelings and associations. So get familiar with the unfamiliar and you’ll soon notice a marked improvement in your mental fitness.
9) Turn off the television and get outdoors
As the chilly winds of winter blow in darker days and sub-zero temperatures, it’s oh so tempting to curl up in front of the television after a long day at work. But when we indulge in our favourite TV series, our brains are essentially on auto-pilot, passively absorbing streams of information without actually processing and/or storing it. So switch off the telly and get outdoors; that’s where the real fun is. Indeed, taking a stroll helps boost creativity and concentration levels, while some researchers argue that a 20-minute walk in the park can be just as stimulating as a cup of coffee.
10) Mental arithmetic
There’s something instantly satisfying about figuring out a math problem or equation without the need for a calculator or Google. If you’re struggling for inspiration, there’s a metric ton of puzzles and brain training exercises online with the sole purpose of developing your mental arithmetic. Or better still, if you’re waiting to pick up the kids from school, scan the car park for the nearest license plate and use its four numbers to play The 24 Game. And remember, you must use all four numbers so that the end result is 24. Good luck!