Your brain is technically an organ, but you can exercise it like a muscle to keep it sharp and prevent mental decline. Below are tips from science and mental health experts on how to flex your brainpower and become mentally fit!
Research repeatedly shows that exercise is not only good for your heart, but it's also good for your brain. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that participants who engaged in more than 30 minutes of activity a day reversed the signs of age-related brain decline. Another study found that those with the highest energy expenditure had the lowest incidence of cognitive impairment over five years.
Become a Life-Long Learner.
Finding ways to challenge, grow and stretch your mind is extremely important. The best way to do this is to be a life-long learner, says Dr. Mark Mayfield, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who is also the Founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers. Some ideas include searching the app store for IQ-based, problem-solving, and/or theoretical-based tests. He also encourages people to learn an instrument or a new language and/or study or take classes at the local college. Why? It’s the “use it or lose it” principal! “The less you engage your mind in learning, the less you will have in neural regeneration and growth,” Mayfield says.
Read a Book Every Day.
When you have extra time, is your immediate instinct to pick up your phone and start aimlessly browsing social media? Instead, download a book to your phone or, if you like and prefer physical books, always have one handy, suggests Dian Griesel, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, a member of the American Counseling Association and a lifetime member of the International Association of Counselors and Therapists. Then, when spare time comes along, you’ll have the ability to start reading right away!
You don't have to make a big production of meditating. You can just close your eyes at your desk and sit in total silence, breathing in and out, for five minutes. "Even a few minutes a day boosts mental sharpness and also helps people living with mental health conditions to cope," says Dr. Judith Feld, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and National Medical Director at Ontrak. "You don't need to spend a lot of money to experience the benefits; there are many free apps and groups available to assist with getting started."
Get Your ZZZs.
All day long your brain is working and exercising but in order to keep it strong and fit, it must have rest. “Sleep has a plethora of health benefits and the recommended eight hours of sleep per night for adults is supported by plenty of science,” says Griesel. “Getting adequate sleep greatly contributes to mental fitness and happiness. If you are a night owl, try to go to bed 30 minutes earlier and keep adjusting until you are in the eight-hour range. If your schedule permits a nap during the day, take advantage and get some ZZZs!”
Use Your Non-Dominant Hand.
Try brushing your teeth, buttoning a shirt, eating, or even washing yourself with your non-dominant hand (the hand you use the least). By doing this, you not only are stimulating your brain activity and firing up neurons, but you are actively re-wiring your brain which makes it stronger, and more malleable, according to Ora Nadrich, president of the Institute for Transformation Thinking.