Our brain, similar to our muscles, requires oxygen, nutrients, and stimulation for optimal functioning. Just as our physical performance increases with different and challenging fitness routines, the brain also benefits from mental “cross training” to expand its problem-solving skills, memory, and creativity. The mind can become complacent after a while, doing the same activities day in and day out. Not presenting unique stimuli can cause it to wither, much like a flower going without water for long durations. The more we exercise the brain in unique and unusual ways, the more we flourish by enjoying its increased capabilities.
Challenging your brain by solving problems, thinking outside the box and tackling brain puzzles helps it flex and stay cognitively fit. Try the following suggestions to improve mental abilities and challenge the brain:
- Look for a new route to get to work or home.
- Read materials that may be more difficult and mentally demanding than your usual selections. If you read the sports section frequently, change it up and try the cooking feature first. If business news gets ignored, stimulate your brain by reading it anyway.
- Expanding your vocabulary is one of the best ways to challenge the brain. Try to learn a few new words every day, as well as their meanings, and use them daily in conversations.
- Use scents to engage the brain. Memories from decades prior can be evoked simply by recognizing certain smells.
- Challenge the brain with puzzles and games. Invest time in board games, online or printed puzzles, or television trivia shows. When watching a trivia show, try to figure out the answers before the contestants.
- Attempt to learn a foreign language. Even looking up a few new words and using them throughout the day is beneficial.
- Challenge the brain by seeking to incorporate one new fruit or vegetable into your diet. If you haven’t eaten a grapefruit in years, buy one today. Explore new and unusual produce such as star fruit or lychee; look at the produce section of the store with new eyes.
- Make up fun exercises such as reciting the months of the year in alphabetical order; counting by twos (2, 4, 6, 8) and then counting backward (8, 6, 4, 2); later changing the factor number to five (5, 10, 15), and then counting down backwards with the same factor number (15, 10, 5).
- An hour before going to bed, write down a list of all the significant happenings of the day: 9am: Read a great article on brain health; 10am: Worked on project; 11am: Conference call; 12pm: Ate a nutritious vegetable salad, and so on.
- Embrace daydreaming, which is a right-brain, mind-expanding, creativity-liberating activity.
Reprinted with permission from The Pillars of Health: Your Foundations for Lifelong Wellness by John Pierre (Hay House; September 2013).
John Pierre, author of The Pillars of Health: Your Foundations for Lifelong Wellness, is a nutrition and fitness consultant who has devoted more than a quarter century to improving the lives of others through his expertise in the areas of geriatrics, nutrition, fitness, women’s empowerment, green living, and cognizant strength and improvement. www.johnpierre.com