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Most people are probably familiar with how to exercise your body effectively but are you aware of exercises for your brain? Often a little overlooked, your brain also benefits greatly from certain forms of physical and mental exercise. Its neurological function is improved as well as its operation and overall health if you take care of it properly.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that ‘physical activity generally increases brain volume and can reduce the number and size of age-related holes in the brain’s white and grey matter.’ A variety of performed physical activities enhances greatly adult neurogenesis; the creation of brand new brain cells in an already mature brain, so if you have been slack with your range of physical and mental activity its probably a good idea to start now! Not only do certain exercises enhance neurological function and processes they can also release endorphins into your brain that make you feel happier and more positive about the world helping to reduce stress levels, which also optimizes the health of your brain.
There are predominantly six factors which ensure a healthy-brain lifestyle and subsequently also help to reduce the onset of brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, including eating a healthy diet, enjoying quality sleep and varied mental activities, managing stress effectively, regular exercise and an active social life. The best exercises for your brain described above cover all these areas to ensure your brain stays healthy and in optimum condition to not only enhance your life now, but to enhance it in the future too. Consciously exercising your brain every day will help to retain and improve cognitive function, keep your memory strong and healthy and help you to function better throughout the day. Below you will find a definitive range of the best exercises for your brain, physical and mental alike to improve your overall brain health.
Yes, you can run your way to better brain function. Running as an exercise isn’t only great for your cardiovascular health, it’s also great for your brain health too. A study from Texas University discovered that when you partake in a sustained form of physical activity such as running your nervous system releases a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). This stimulates regions of your brain related to learning, memory, and higher cognitive functions like decision-making. Running raises your heart rate which pumps an accelerated rate of oxygenated blood to your brain meaning you feel more energized. Dopamine levels will also remain at high levels in your brain meaning you will feel happy and positive. Having a morning run before you go to work will set you up for a successful and motivation filled day.
Balance and coordination exercises
Starting balance and coordination exercises and keeping them up is an excellent way to exercise your brain, and keep it strong and healthy for later life. Head injuries from falls become a common risk as you reach old age, which in turn can greatly increase your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Tai Chi is a superb yet low impact balance and coordination exercise effective at improving mental function. Tai Chi can increase brain volume, with low brain volume being linked to memory loss; Tai Chi is an invaluable brain exercise.
An age-old favorite the Rubik’s Cube isn’t just a frustrating puzzle for children; it’s a highly advanced mind puzzle, which requires input from a large number of areas in your brain. It’s an arranging game, which demands a high level of problem solving and pattern skills demanding spatial intelligence. Trying to solve the Rubik’s cube involves visual memory and in depth cognitive ability making it a tough challenge but a highly beneficial exercise for your brain due to the amount of concentration it requires.
Using opposite hands
When it comes to simple tasks like eating, brushing your teeth and even writing have you thought of using your opposite hand? No? Well you should! Using your opposite hand is one of the best exercises for your brain because it stimulates the other side of your brain and will help to strengthen neural connections and even grow new ones. Just like with resistance training you don’t train one arm you train both, each side of your brain deserves equal attention. The non-dominant hand (the one you don’t really use) is actually linked to the non-dominant hemisphere in your brain, meaning the one that isn’t exercised as often. Actively engaging and exercising both hemispheres of your brain simply by using your non-dominant hand too can enhance creative ability.
Starting the day with breakfast
Starting your day by eating a healthy breakfast is definitely one of the best exercises for your brain to adopt every single day, but why? While you sleep, your body enters starvation mode as it has been without food or water all night so your brain is without ample glucose and nutrients for the day ahead. If you head off to work without eating breakfast you can suffer poor concentration, fatigue and a lack of motivation and creative ability. Aim for a nutritious balanced breakfast containing protein and carbohydrates. An example of the perfect brain exercising breakfast would be a low glycaemic carbohydrate such as oats, with a scoop of whey protein. Top it with a teaspoon of peanut butter because the omega 3 & 6 contained in it will help reduce inflammation in the brain.
Meditation should never be overlooked when it comes to exercising your brain. Meditation is vital for the health and functioning of your brain allowing it to improve its performance and reduce stress levels. Why is this? Meditation allows you to focus your thoughts and de-stress. The stress hormone cortisol can have serious implications on your health and meditation is a great way of dispersing this. Cortisol can also affect your immune system making you prone to diseases and illness. A relaxed, happier, more focused you leads to better brain function and cognitive health. ‘Exercising’ your brain with meditation not only improves the functioning of your mind, but your body also.
Strategy games and brain teasers
Brainteasers and strategy games provide your brain with an excellent mental workout and help to build your brains abilities to form and retain cognitive associations. Strategy games for this reason are excellent at helping to delay the onset of illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Great examples of brainteasers and strategy games to exercise your brain include crossword puzzles, board games, cards, or word and numerical games such as Scrabble or Sudoku. Moreover The American Alzheimer’s Association has actually endorsed Sudoku as a “brain game” due to its excellent abilities at coaching the brain and keeping it active.
Playing a musical instrument
Playing a musical instrument is extremely good for your brain as it helps to further develop your cognitive function and enhances the connectivity of different brain regions. Playing a musical instrument changes how your brain interprets and integrates a wide range of sensory information, especially for those who start before age seven. These findings were presented at the Neuroscience 2013 conference in San Diego. Also, clinical studies have discovered that well-practiced musicians have a “better engagement of cognitive control processes,” – Neuropsychologia Study. This means they can adopt faster reaction times and have a better ability to correct mistakes. If you don’t play a musical instrument, its time to start!
Creating rhymes and patterns is an excellent way to strengthen your memory connections and cognitive function. Practice makes perfect and repetition is the key to reinforcing these neurological functions. Practice and recite poetry, or having a go at writing your own is a great way of exercising your brain with rhymes and patterns. Try memorizing your favorite songs or passages from your favorite book. Also, a great exercise for your brain is learning something new. Can you take up a new hobby or study for a new language? All of these things enhance your brain functions meaning you can stay alert for longer.
Challenge your taste buds
Don’t forget the taste sense, this sense is not to be forgotten when it comes to the best exercises for your brain. Taste is recognized in the part of your brain known as the anterior insula, which identifies what the flavor is. Stimulating and developing this area of the brain is also important so you should feed it with new information and experiences. When you are next eating, try to exercise the anterior insula of your brain by trying to identify the individual ingredients in your meal, including all the individual herbs and spices. Also, smells can evoke powerful memories of your experiences, like where you happened to be or whom you were with at a certain time in your life or remind you of a happy event etc.