To live a vibrant and fulfilling life, a healthy mind is essential. Losing brain function is unfortunately common as we age, so taking care of it is vital, and just as our bodies benefit from various exercises, our minds can as well. It will continuously either advance or slowly decline, depending on how we choose to use it. The more we challenge ourselves, the further we can boost and maintain our intelligence, focus and memory. In fact, various Harvard studies highlight the advances that have been made in neuroscience and cognitive fitness, and show that there’s really no reason our minds have to weaken at all as we mature.
Keep your brain in tip-top shape and bring out your inner genius with these seven simple and effective mental exercises:
If you’ve ever wanted to pick up the guitar or learn to speak French, now is the time to do it (read: any time). Learning something new, particularly a language or a musical instrument, is a fantastic way to keep the brain lively. In fact, studies have shown that those who speak multiple languages tend to have higher functioning brains than those who only speak their native language. Whatever you decide to take on, once you’ve mastered it move on to try something new again. Building and preserving our brain is an ongoing process, so make lifelong learning a priority.
We all know the importance of the ability to shut out this crazy world and just be present from time to time. Meditation has steadily proven to produce a number of health benefits, and is definitely worth adding to your regular lineup. A recent study performed at UCLA used MRIs to scan the brains of those who meditated frequently against those who did not. The results found that the individuals who did, as a result had more brain cells than their counterparts. So not only can meditation decrease stress and boost happiness, it can also help grow your mind (literally), too. Take a few minutes each day to simply sit quietly and focus on your breathing.
If you’re right-handed, make an effort to frequently use your left hand to perform activities and vice-versa. Think simple, everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth, using a fork at dinner or changing the channel on the television. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can even start practicing writing opposite of how you normally do. Do this often, and you’ll be amazed at what can come of it. By using your non-dominant hand, it will challenge your brain to work harder, thus strengthening a part that isn’t used often andspurring the production of growth-stimulating molecules.
Science has shown that sleep directly contributes to the formation of new nerve cells in the brain. Lack of sleep therefore reduces the number that are repaired and produced each day. A state of slumber is also necessary in order for the mind to process the information it has taken in and to form new, long-term memories. While we should spend nearly one-third of our time resting, in today’s fast-paced world we tend not to make it a priority. Try getting to bed an hour earlier each night and you’ll likely be amazed at how refreshed and mentally sharp you feel.
Research has shown that social deprivation can have severe negative effects on our cognitive abilities. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pencil in nightly dinner dates with friends (our alone time is important, too). But it’s actually quite easy to add a little more social interaction into our days. Next time you find yourself at the grocery store, don’t surrender to the self-checkout register. Stopping for gas? Go inside to pay the clerk rather than just swiping your card at the pump. These small efforts to mingle with others daily can greatly improve our cognitive dexterity.
Being our healthiest and sharpest selves involves all of the activities that are good for both the body and mind. Eating clean is one of the most critical parts of this, as is exercising and staying in shape. If you needed any more reason to get active, research has shown that keeping fit is one of the most effective ways to make sure that your brain remains agile for the long-term. So make an effort to take the stairs more often and hit the gym as frequently as you can throughout the week. Carry the mentality that whatever is good for your heart is also good for your brain, too.
Being optimistic is great just for overall well being, but did you know that it can also play a role in brain performance? Positive thinking can actually activate our brain’s ability to adapt and change. Recent research at several universities found that those who had the most self-confidence and most positive attitudes had the most success when it came to testing or learning a new skill. Changing your mindset doesn’t have to be a daunting task either. Start by making it a point each day to write down the things you’re thankful for in life. This sort of reflection will boost optimism, gratitude and your overall happiness.
We all want to keep our brains functioning at optimal performance. Through simple exercises such as these, we can. The key is to practice.
Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com