The brain benefits from exercise just like our physical bodies, helping us be at our mental best in the present whilst investing in our future; protecting against future memory loss and cognitive decline.
Whilst routines are beneficial and how many of us live our lives, shaking up your routine every so often could be the key to a sharper mind. This is because routine in itself does not require much brain power - it is predictable, simple and run by our sub-conscious.
In order to stimulate the brain enough to be exercising it, experts suggest that it must fall into two criteria; unique and complex. Dr. Lawrence Katz, "Mental decline is not usually from loss of brain cells as much as it is from loss of communication between brain cells." In his discoveries he found out that by doing the right kind of exercise we can build new connections within the brain by engaging all the senses; sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Examples of such exercises are:
Choosing an alternative route home from work in order to stimulate the mind and not just slip into automatic pilot. This will stimulate the cortex and hippocampus area of the brain.
Different area of the brain respond when the same word is read, spoken and heard - alternating how we consume information may help engage the imagination in a different way. This is something that can be particularly useful when a child or young person is learning something new.
By just wearing your watch upside down or hanging your calendar upside down you stimulate the brain. And if you really want a challenge you could try mastering the art of mirror writing!
If you are right-handed, try writing with your left hand or vice versa. Even brushing your teeth, using your computer or eating can all be done the opposite way around and will increase brain activity.
In 2008 new research came out that showed that intelligence was not fixed but rather could change and improve given the right environment and stimulus. Try these tips to increase your cognitive ability:
1. Trying New Things
New and novel experiences release dopamine, the motivation neurotransmitter, whilst stimulating the creation of new neurons. Travelling somewhere you have never been or taking up a hobby that is unfamiliar are great examples of this.
2. Move out of the Comfort Zone
Taking an already learnt skill and choosing to take it to the next level moves you out of the comfort zone and into the brain stimulating zone. Pursuits like learning new languages or developing rusty piano playing skills is a good way to achieve this.
One of the most beneficial brain exercises of all, mediation has been known to increase cognitive resilience, manage stress and increase the ability to focus.
4. Physical Exercise
This is a great stress-buster as it releases feel good brain chemicals that promote new cell formation and new neuron connections.
These brain focusing exercises are all fun and can be done with children, as well as on an individual level. Trying to alter just one or two things a day and tackling them differently can have a huge positive impact on how our brain works.