Just like muscles need exercise to stay strong, the brain needs exercise to keep it sharp. Mental stimulation can help maintain the connections within the brain and build new ones, helping to fight off cognitive decline. And the best part is that you can strengthen your brain at any age, so it’s never too late for some mental gymnastics. Let’s dive deeper into why mental stimulation is important and how you can keep your mind on its toes.
Science behind Brain Exercises
The brain is made up of a network of neurons, which communicate back and forth with each other. As we develop daily patterns, the brain falls into a mental rut. Instead of having to think through situations and maintain connections, it recognizes which mental path to take because it has taken it so many times before. Essentially, the brain goes on autopilot. You might notice that you start to daydream during these times. Like when you realize you drove all the way home but don't' actually remember the drive. Brain “autopilot” can actually lead to a decline in cognitive function over time.
Brain exercises, or mental stimulation, can engage the brain and snap it out of autopilot, forcing it to make new connections and communication channels. This can stimulate the brain produce more new nerve cells.
Ultimately, these strengthened connections can help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease or other types of cognitive decline. While brain exercises are not a sure way to prevent cognitive decline, it may help delay symptoms and maintain cognitive function for a longer period of time.
Brain Gymnastics Tricks You Can Try Today
Brain gymnastics doesn’t require any specific training. Really, it just involves trying new things or thinking about things in a different way to wake up the brain and help it build new connections to stay healthy and strong.
Here are some examples of brain gymnastics tricks you can try today!
- Try performing a routine activity in a new way. When you approach a familiar routine, try to shake it up. For example, try changing the order of your morning routine. Or take a different path around the grocery store. This forces the brain to think about things in a different way, preventing it from going on autopilot.
- Engage multiple senses. Think about how you can engage multiple senses when performing a routine activity. For example, while you are getting dressed, try closing your eyes. Or light a candle while you listen to your favorite music. This can make a routine task more challenging and interesting for the brain.
- Pay closer attention to the details. Another trick you can do is by paying close attention to things in the background. This might feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes, but you can try things like trying to remember how many steps you took or how many people were wearing blue shirts.
- Do something completely new. Of course, another great brain exercise is to try something brand new. This could be learning a new language or trying to write with your non-dominant hand. New activities can challenge the brain and activate communication paths that might be silent.
- Teach someone a skill. As a follow up to #4, you can also try teaching someone a skill that you have learned. This is sometimes much trickier than it seems because it requires you to reflect on and explain the most basic concepts of a skill. Part of teaching a skill is also observing how the other person is progressing, which forces your brain to be on alert and watching closely.
- Engage both sides of the body. Have you noticed that it’s a lot easier to do things with one side of your body? Part of that is how the brain is structured in hemispheres and how it communicates with each side of the body. Try doing something that involves both sides of the body at once, like lifting your right knee and touching the knee with your left elbow. You could also try the classic: pat your head with one hand and rub your tummy in circles with the other.
- Complete a puzzle. Whether you like crossword puzzles or sudoku, you can set a goal to complete a puzzle each day. Puzzles engage many areas of the brain and can help improve word recall, math skills, and even fine motor skills.
- Try improv. Improvisation is an activity that actors use a lot. There are a number of theater games and exercises that involve role playing new scenarios and having to react in the moment to them. This can help you step out of your comfort zone and push your brain to react quickly.
- Do something physical. Even though the brain isn’t a muscle, doing physical activity can benefit your brain. Exercise can stimulate the growth of new connections in the brain, improve memory, and help your thinking skills.
- Memorize something. If you want to test your brain, memorize a list of words or a short quote. Push yourself by setting a time limit on memorization. Go do something else and then try to recall what you memorized previously.
We hope that these activities can help you get those connections forming in your brain. For more ideas on how to specifically build a senior’s brain health, check out our blog post: Get Smart: How to Improve Senior Brain Health.
If one of your loved ones is experiencing the cognitive decline as a result of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, know that we can help. We offer specialized Alzheimer’s care services to support seniors and their families through every stage. Contact a Caring team near you to learn more.