Your brain needs exercise too

11.05.15 |

When it comes to health, the conversation too often fixates on what we eat and how often we exercise.

These Habits of Health are important, but the complete picture of health is more expansive. Last week, we talked about how a healthy marriage and healthy relationships in general can improve your overall wellbeing. Emotional health matters, and by extension, that means your mental health matters too.

Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs exercise.

To stay strong and sharp, you need to challenge your mind. Researchers out of King’s College London found that ten minutes of brain training five times a week helped adults over 50 perform better in everyday tasks. These games, which were more in depth than simple internet searches or social media activity, requiring participants to regularly engage their problem solving and memory skills, had a measurable improvement on quality of life.

This is good news. We already know that how and what you eat can impact the longevity of your brain, and this research—while not extensive enough to prove it outright—suggests that regularly challenging our brains could help to stave off degenerative brain conditions. The more research that comes out supporting these ideas, the more we can be sure that we have some control over the fate of our long term mental health.

The choices you make tomorrow can mean more opportunities to create rich and vibrant memories with your loved ones tomorrow.

Granted, exercising your brain can sound like a strange idea. After all, you use your brain every day, right?

Yes, but how often do you challenge your brain? The repetitive tasks that drone on into the mindless boredom of a typical office workday won’t cut it. You need the equivalent of weight-training for your brain. You need activities that make you pause and reflect and force you to think about problems in new and interesting ways.

Ideas to help you challenge your brain

If you aren’t sure where to start, try these ideas:

  • Play games. Yes, hours and hours of video games can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, but video games in their own right are not bad for you. Multiple studies have found that video games can improve our thinking processes. Puzzle and problem solving games are ideal. Avoid games that become mindless and repetitive.
  • Read more. Sitting down with a book might sound like a passive activity, but the act of reading engages our brains in compelling ways. Interesting content stimulates our imagination and forces our brain to process ideas and parse new concepts.
  • Use your offhand. When you are forced to do something that feels automatic, like brushing your teeth vacuuming the house, use your non-dominant hand. When you perform rudimentary tasks with your offhand, you force your brain to forge new neural pathways. It might seem silly, but it’s a meaningful act of learning.
  • Learn something new. It’s never too late to pick up a new hobby or to adopt a new skill. Late in life, some people are reluctant to go through the awkwardness of trying a new activity. That’s a mistake! It’s okay to feel a little strange, especially if it means adding a new bright spot to your life and engaging your brain in a healthy, meaningful away.

Your brain health is of the utmost importance. Don’t pass up opportunities to keep it healthy!