Even though the brain is an organ, rather than a muscle, you can still give it a workout. Just like a muscle, repetitive tasks can dull or even damage your mental sharpness, while new challenges and activities can strengthen your brain and even make you smarter.
Get ready for your workout!
How to Keep Your Mind Sharp
Exploit your weaknesses.
If you’re a morning person who's most productive and alert early in the day, try tackling a creative task late at night, and vice versa if you're a night owl. Asking your brain to work hard at a time it's not used to can yield surprising results and works best for creative tasks. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish by flipping the script.
Play memory games.
Whether it’s a jigsaw puzzle or an app, actively working to improve your memory can help you. While it can be hard to directly measure brain health improvements from playing games, playtime can definitely improve your mood and self-esteem – both of which help your brain.
Mnemonics can help stretch your brain to create new associations to remember things, like people's names. When you meet someone, try associating their name with a personal trait, like their hometown, profession, or favorite hobby. This hack can help you tackle an important part of professional networking.
Raise your eyebrows.
While you may want to practice this privately rather than in public, just try it even if you feel silly at first. Raising your eyebrows opens your eyes wider and can give you a slight adrenaline boost, helping you feel brighter and more alert – ready for whatever task awaits you next.
Read books that push your boundaries.
It’s okay to take small steps here, but reading books is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Maybe you commit to turning off the TV for 20 minutes at night and pick up a book instead. You can take the task a step further: branch out from your usual type of book. Swap your sci-fi for history, or trade the latest thriller to a classic novel from time to time. Getting out of your reading rut can yield surprising brain benefits.
Try a new hobby.
Similarly, experiment with new hobbies that excite you and capture your focus and attention. Mastering a new mechanical task – anything from knitting to tennis – develops new territory in your brain. A new challenge will require your brain to accommodate new information and routines, plus it can be a fun way to connect with new people and lower stress.
Feed your brain.
Organs require nourishment to keep growing. Most people can find a way to improve their diet, whether that means reducing sugar, alcohol, or drinking more water. A balanced diet, especially one rich in fruits and vegetables, is important for brain health. Supplements like ginkgo biloba may also help improve concentration and memory.
Move your body.
Exercise improves absolutely everything. Not only will you feel better from regular exercise, but exercise improves circulation throughout your body, moving protein and nutrients to your brain. Strong body, strong mind! Find something that you enjoy so you're more likely to stick to it.
Get enough sleep.
Like exercise, adequate sleep can help every facet of your life. A lack of sleep can actually be dangerous, impairing your focus and memory, worsening your mood, and more. Try unwinding before bedtime by giving up screens at least 30 minutes before when you want to sleep. Reading a book, meditating, taking a bath, or doing yoga can be helpful to calm your nervous system to prepare for sleep.
Thinking of your brain as a muscle can help you find ways to treat it better. If you exercise the brain often, it will likely become stronger. Challenge yourself to tackle a couple of these ideas, and notice if you start to feel stronger, smarter, and happier.
A version of this article was originally published on August 08, 2013.
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