I know what you’re thinking. You already exercise all the time, right? If IQ was dependent on days spent at the gym, you’d have an IQ of 200. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case. However, there are specialized exercises you can do to support your brain’s health and function.
Certain exercises influence neuroplasticity, which has a lot to do with brain health. Plasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt. Plasticity can influence how we think, feel, learn, and function - mentally and physically. Some neuroscientists believe that neuroplasticity exists from the day we are born to the day we die. It has even been suggested that we can actively influence positive change in brain development, learning, memory, and recovery by keeping our minds active in provocative, challenging ways. (1) The more we use our brains, the stronger they will be.
Below are 7 great brain exercise ideas you can try daily to keep your brain spry:
Research done in the Netherlands demonstrated that memory is trainable, and can show lasting improvements through practice. (2) Start keeping some memory flash cards handy or challenge your family and friends to more games of “Go Fish”.
Grab a pen or a Rubik’s cube. The key is using your hands and your brain simultaneously. Solving word puzzles or math problems this way, as well as doing crafts like drawing and painting, can help build new brain connections. (3)
When you do something routine in a different way, it stretches your brain to think outside the box. You can brush your teeth with the hand you don’t usually use. You can eat with your opposite hand too. Try shutting your eyes and taking a few steps down a familiar hallway, or try spinning in an office chair with your eyes closed. (4) Instead of turning on the television, jumping into the shower, or looking at your phone like you usually do when you wake up in the morning, try reading a page of a book to prime your brain for the rest of your day.
Researchers say that certain physical movements activate different parts of the brain. They suggest squeezing your right hand into a tight fist when memorizing information and then squeezing the left hand when recalling information. (5) It sounds weird, but it’s true!
According to the journal Brain and Cognition, scientists told volunteers to wiggle their eyes back and forth, up and down, or to stare straight ahead for 30 seconds. While volunteers did this, the scientists played them recordings of words. The volunteers who wiggled their eyes horizontally were able to memorize more words than the others. (5)
The vagus nerve is a major nerve that connects the brain to the body. Stimulating this nerve promotes blood flow and oxygen to the brain from the heart, which in turn supports brain function.
To stimulate the vagus nerve, you can gargle, sing, chant, or even gag a couple of times (don’t overdo that one). Some neurologists have their neuropathy patients do similar exercises to rejuvenate dysfunctional brains. (6)
That brings us to aerobic exercise. Yes, all the time you’ve spent at the gym likely has improved your mental health and cognitive abilities!
Aerobic exercise is an exercise that encourages blood flow and oxygen to different areas of your body, including your brain. Some examples of aerobic exercise are jogging, rowing, swimming, cycling, jumping rope, dancing, walking, and even gardening.
According to research, 30 minutes a week of this type of exercise is enough to reap the mental benefits. Brain benefits observed during clinical studies include reduced anxiety, stress, and depression, improvements in mood, self-esteem and cognitive function, improved sleep, better endurance, and increased energy and mental alertness. (7)
The most important thing to take away from this is that your brain wants to work! Like the rest of our muscles, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Sitting in front of the TV all day, mindlessly driving the same routes every day, and only doing things that we’re used to can affect our attention spans, our mood, motivation, and creativity negatively.
Life becomes stagnant. Practicing small changes and challenges like the exercises above can be enough to awaken our minds and spice things up. It may be uncomfortable at first, but once you experience the mental benefits, you’ll be glad that you challenged yourself. When you begin using neuroplasticity to your advantage, life gets interesting. It may surprise you just how intelligent and powerful your brain can be.Sources:
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