To maintain a nimble, healthy physique, you have to exercise. Whether you have a regular cardio routine, like to take long walks, run regularly or lift weights at the gym, you know your muscles will get stronger by doing physical exercise. But how do you strengthen the most important muscle in your body: your brain?
Exercising regularly will improve not only your physical health, strength and endurance, it will also strengthen your mind.
“Research shows that physical exercise enhances cognitive function,” explains Eva Selhub, M.D., on MindBodyGreen.com. “One reason might be because it increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that improves learning, memory and higher thinking by stimulating growth of new neurons and helping existing neurons stay alive.”
Selhub notes that brain-beneficial activities include yoga, tai chi, aerobic exercise and walking outside on balance-challenging terrain.
Think for yourself
Smartphones, computers and other devices can deliver answers in mere seconds. This means that a lot of the work your brain used to do, like math calculations, has disappeared, according to HuffingtonPost.com contributor Shawn Clark. In order to exercise your brain, he recommends taking advantage of your old-school skills more in everyday tasks.
Alter your habits
You’ve probably got your morning routine down so well that you can go through the motions without even thinking. This may be good for getting out the door on time, but it’s not good for your brain. According to “Keep Your Brain Alive” authors Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., and Manning Rubin on ReadersDigest.com, brain activity dwindles when routines become automatic.
In order to reawaken your brain, they suggest mixing up your morning habits: “Get dressed after breakfast, walk the dog on a new route or change your TV or news station.”
Target train your brain
Cognitive training exercises such as juggling or playing board games or chess will keep your brain nimble, according to Selhub.
“You can even do something simple like learn a new direction to drive to work, type or scroll with the opposite hand, or combine your senses by eating while listening to music with your eyes closed,” she writes.
Expand your horizon
To keep your brain firing on all cylinders, learn something new.
“Learn a craft, a new language or take up a new hobby,” Clark writes. “Learning to do new things will keep your mind active and stimulate areas of your mental functioning that may have been neglected. And keep in mind that variation is key.”
Put yourself out there
Connecting with others, making new friends and belonging to a community is good for your spirit and can also help strengthen your brain, explain Katz and Rubin. Not being social can harm your “overall cognitive abilities.”
Pick the right fuel
Certain foods — namely sugar — have extremely negative effects on the body and the brain. To protect your brain’s health, Selhub strongly recommends avoiding the sweet stuff.
Katz and Rubin suggest incorporating foods that you don’t normally consume into your diet as a way to wake up your senses.
“There’s a direct link to the emotional center of your brain, so new odors may evoke unexpected feelings and associations,” they explain.
By incorporating these exercises and activities into your life, you’ll help keep your cognitive abilities sharp and your memory strong.