It is extremely important to keep your mind sharp as you age. The problem is, many of us wait until we’re older before we start considering doing brain exercises to keep our brains as active as possible. While starting later is better than never, the earlier you start working out your brain (as well as your body), the more longevity you will have. Thankfully, exercises to keep your mind in shape are easy to incorporate into your daily routines.
How To Keep Your Mind Sharp
Often when you think of exercises to keep your mind sharp, you often automatically think of things like crosswords, riddles, sudoku, and other brain-teaser type puzzles. Many of us don’t necessarily have the time (or the desire, for that matter) to do these kinds of games on a daily basis. Luckily there are other ways to engage your brain differently that achieve the same result. (1)
What Causes Mental Decline?
According to neurobiologist Dr. Lawrence Katz, mental decline is caused by the loss of communication between brain cells, not by a decrease in the actual number of brain cells themselves. The only real way to maintain those connections is to challenge your brain every single day. To do this, you need to do things that are out of your comfort zone. (1, 2)
Challenging your brain doesn’t have to be complicated or require anything unusual. Dr. Katz says that anything can become a mental exercise as long as you do it in a way that is different and forces your brain to engage actively rather than passively. These typically are just small switch-ups to your daily routines that can have a big impact in the long term.
Brain Exercises To Keep Your Mind Sharp
The following are some simple changes you can make every day to keep your mind sharp. You don’t have to do all of them every single day. Rather, pick one or two each day to challenge your brain in a different way.
1. Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
There are a lot of things we do daily that we use our dominant hand for, like brushing our teeth, using the mouse pad on our laptop, or even single-hand texting on our phones. Try switching this up and doing some of these tasks with your non-dominant hand instead. Will doing this make you smarter? No, but it will force you to engage your brain to complete a task that you would have otherwise done more passively. (2)
2. Do Daily Tasks With Your Eyes Closed
Our brain relies heavily on sight. Take that sense away, and instead, you are forced to use smell, sound, touch, etc. Tasks like taking a shower or folding laundry are great options of tasks to do with your eyes shut. Naturally, be sure to avoid tasks that could put yourself or others in danger, such as any tasks that involve heat, sharp objects, and machinery. (3)
3. Eat With Chopsticks
Eating with chopsticks not only forces you to eat more slowly, but it works your brain in a different way. If you already eat with chopsticks regularly, then refer to tip #1 and try using the chopsticks with your non-dominant hand. (1)
4. Read Things Upside Down And Backwards
Texts, articles, clocks – anything that you usually read right-side-up, try reading it the other way around. You can even take this one step further and try writing things upside down and backward. This is going to challenge your brain to see things differently than you usually do. (1)
5. Take New Routes
Humans are very routine-oriented, and we tend to follow the same daily routines day in and day out. Unfortunately, this allows us to go into auto-pilot rather than be actively engaged in what we are doing. Something simple you can do to change things up is to take a different route while you’re going about your daily routines. Maybe this means switching up your walking or jogging route or taking the back roads to work instead of the main highway. This activates a different part of the brain and makes you more engaged in your surroundings. (4)
6. Read Aloud
Reading requires a certain amount of brainpower. Reading out loud, however, engages even more parts of the mind. If it has been a while since you last tried reading anything out loud, you’ll be surprised at how much more difficult this is than simply reading something silently to yourself. (5)
7. Do Things To Engage All of Your Senses
The more senses involved in an activity, the more brain-stimulating they will be. Things like gardening, for example, engage nearly all of your senses – sight, touch, sound, smell, and sometimes even taste. Other activities such as traveling, trying new foods, camping, and going to events also achieve the same result. It’s even better when these activities have a social aspect to them. (1)
8. Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonic devices are simple tricks to help you remember things. An example of this is the acronym H.O.M.E.S. to remember the names of all of the great lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Acronyms are the most common for remembering lists of things, like the planets or the french verbs that require “être” to be conjugated in the past tense rather than “avoir.” Poems and rhymes are also used. If you can’t find a pre-existing mnemonic device, you can make your own! The point is for it to be something that you will remember and be able to use when needed. (6)
Daily Practice Is Key
As I already mentioned, you don’t have to do all of these all day, every day. Picking one or two to try out even just for a few minutes to an hour will provide you with some benefits. Are they a fool-proof way to stave off mental decline? No, but when combined with a healthy lifestyle, they can certainly help.
- “TOP BRAIN EXERCISES TO KEEP YOU SHARP (IN-DEPTH REVIEW).” Be Brain Fit. Deane Alban
- “Quantitative evidence for selective dendritic growth in normal human aging but not in senile dementia.” Pub Med. S J Buell, P D Coleman. June 1981.
- “How to Boost Brain Power in the Blink of an Eye.” Psychology Today. Melissa Burkley Ph.D. March 20, 2019.
- “Recalling Routes around London: Activation of the Right Hippocampus in Taxi Drivers.” J Neuro Sci. Eleanor A. Maguire, et al. September 15, 1997.
- “Why you should read this out loud.” BBC. Sophie Hardach. September 17, 2020.
- “Insider’s Guide To Studying – Tip 2: Mnemonic Devices.” Oxford Learning. February 10 2010.