Everyday Brain Fitness Tips
- Eat chocolate - Dark chocolate, that is. While overindulging may not be the best for your waistline, adding a little dark chocolate to your diet does have its health benefits. Dark chocolate causes your brain to release dopamine, a chemical that improves overall brain function and improves your memory.
- Eat fish - While this one may not excite you as much as the previous “eat chocolate” recommendation, studies suggest that a diet rich in fish – especially fatty fish like salmon - can improve brain function.
- Exercise your peripheral vision - Yes, eyes can learn. Scientists have found that acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the peripheral nervous system, is crucial to focus and memory. By practicing peripheral vision exercises, you can reinvigorate the release of acetylcholine in your brain and improve your memory function.
To practice, try this exercise the next time you’re sitting some place outside of your house, such as a restaurant, a bench at the mall, or the local park. With a pen and paper handy, stare straight ahead for several seconds and don’t move your eyes. Mentally note everything you can see without moving your eyes. When you believe you’ve taken note of everything, take out your pen and paper and write down everything you saw. Then, try the exercise again and see if you can add to your list.
- Play ball - Remember how much you loved to play ball as a kid? Well, you might want to take it up again. Throwing a ball up in the air and catching it, or better yet, trying your hand at juggling, can improve your hand-eye coordination and carries widespread brain health benefits.
- Exercise - Surely you’ve heard of the health benefits of exercise…but did you know there are health benefits for your brain too? Exercise brings with it benefits for the hippocampus, an important brain structure for learning and memory function. Exercise can even help your brain create new cells…so get that body moving!
- Rest up - Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to brain function. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep have more trouble learning new information than those who are well rested. Moreover, sleeping well after learning something new helps your brain store that information and recall it at a later date. So for your long-term memory’s sake, catch your Z’s every night.
- Turn down the volume - As we age, our hearing ages with us, causing us to sometimes struggle to hear conversations. But you can train your ears to become sharper. The next time you’re watching TV, try turning it down a little from the volume at which you normally have it set. Concentrate and see if you can follow just as well as you did at the louder volume. Keep turning it down notch by notch, listening closely to hear the increasingly softer tones. By training your ears to listen more intently to lower volumes, you’ll find it easier to catch every word of day to day conversations.
- Do a jigsaw puzzle - While they may seem mundane, jigsaw puzzles are actually great for your brain. Choose one that is on the difficult side – at least 500 pieces. Then, on a rainy afternoon or whenever the mood strikes, set out to conquer your puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles require fine visual judgments about where pieces belong and entail mentally “rotating” the pieces, manipulating them in your hands, and shifting your attention from the small piece to the “big picture.” Besides, it’s rewarding to see your puzzle become a whole work of art. Congratulate yourself on a job well done!
- Make your hobbies harder - Do you already have a favorite pastime? From cooking to crossword puzzles, there are always things you can do to challenge yourself, pushing you outside your “comfort zone” by taking on something a bit more difficult than you’re used to. By putting higher demands on your brain, you will have to concentrate harder and put more effort into the activity at hand, re-engaging your brain’s learning ability.
- Walk on a rocky road - Before you ask, “Huh?” let us explain. Scientists believe that walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium. Walking on a rocky road challenges the vestibular system in ways that improve its function, which translates into better balance.
- Visit a museum - Enjoy art? Natural history, perhaps? Take a guided tour of a museum or other interesting spot in your area. Pay careful attention to what the museum guide says and when you get home, try to recall what you learned and write down everything you remember. Besides getting some cultural enrichment, this activity engages your brain’s ability to receive and remember information, helping to improve cognitive function.
- Learn to play guitar - Or any instrument for that matter. And if learning to play an instrument has been on your to-do list for some time, some proven brain fitness benefits give you all the more reason to pick it up. Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound). So dust off that harmonica (or piano, flute, banjo, etc) and make some music.
- Use your other hand - Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, you probably find yourself doing day to day activities such as eating and combing your hair with your dominant hand. But try mixing it up a bit. Brushing your teeth is a good place to start. Try brushing your teeth with your subordinate hand (so your left if you’re right-handed) and keep practicing until you master it. While you may find it difficult at first, practicing an activity such as this can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand!
- Memorize a song - Think of a song you like but one that you don’t know the words to. Make it a point to buy the CD/MP3/etc if you don’t already have it and listen to it as many times as it takes to write down all the lyrics. Then sing along - (if you’ve got stage fright, feel free to do this part when no one’s around). Once you’re able to sing the song word for word without the recording playing in the background, move on to the next song!
Hopefully you find this brain exercise fun, but there is also some science behind it. By carefully listening to the song, your brain releases acetylcholine, a chemical that aids in understanding, thinking, and memory function. So whether it’s in the shower or at karaoke night, go ahead and sing your heart out. Your brain will thank you.
Adapted in part or in whole from the Hartford Insurance Company on Brain Fitness.