Despite the general public opinion that logical and computer games are the best brain trainers, scientists and neurologists disagree and recommend a more holistic approach. While logical games, puzzles, and crosswords certainly have a positive impact on our cognitive function, they say, generally, those tend to have superficial implications and bring only narrow short-going benefits. Instead, scientists recommend engaging our brain in complex and regular real-world activities. The exercises that develop brain capacity should be challenging and include novelty.
To improve your memory and brain function with a sustainable effect, do the following exercises regularly:
- Draw a map of your latest route from work in your head. It is a great way to train your memory function. Basically, any route you took this day or earlier would do the trick. The key is to take new and different routes as this will teach your memory something new. Also, try to use your smartphone-enabled maps less.
- Do math in your head – instead of using a smartphone calculator, try to do simple math in your head: subtract, add, divide or multiply numbers and if you can learn to do it regularly you would notice that each new time you do it easier. The key is to use this technique in everyday situations: in a grocery shop, at a gas station, revising your pocket money, planning monthly expenses, etc.
- Challenge your taste and habits – when brushing your teeth in the morning try to switch hands as this has proved to be a useful exercise for brain activity. Doing other regular things in a slightly different manner works similarly well. When you eat, close your eyes and try to identify different ingredients using only your smell and taste.
- Learn a new language-rich vocabulary has been medically linked to a significantly lower risk of cognitive decline. People who know many languages tend to perform better on cognitive and IQ tests.
- Learn to play a musical instrument – studies show that learning a new skill involving coordinated and rhythmic movements and involving hearing senses (as well as any other) is an ideal remedy for an aging mind. Even if it would take you a long time to learn, the therapeutic effect would still be strong and you will improve the fitness of your memory and cognitive function.
Remember these simple principles that will turn any similar exercise like the above into useful training for your brain:
- It has to be challenging. It works similarly to a physical exercise – if it is something simple and routine that does not demand you “going an extra mile” or applying discretionary effort – such activity is not going to help. You have to be focused, motivated, and work hard to achieve a good result.
- It has to teach you something new. You must leave your comfort zone and learn and try something new. Repeating the same mental exercise even if it complex over and over again is going to be less beneficial for your cognitive function than trying a new activity, learning a new game, developing a new skill, etc.
- It has to have multiple levels of difficulty – for your exercise to be inspiring and motivating it has to consist of various difficulty levels or at least be complex enough for you to grow and to further build your proficiency. The best example is a logical computer game, where you progress to a new level once all lower levels have been mastered.
- It has to be rewarding. You need to enjoy your activity and to feel satisfaction from making progress. To an extent, it is linked to the previous principle of multiple difficulty levels where each new stage achieved makes you feel proud of yourself.