How often do you really challenge your brain? With the help of technology many of us aren’t using our brains as much as we did before. Whereas before we would often rely on our brain for certain tasks, for example trying to make a calculation in our head, these days many of us automatically turn to our phone for assistance. Mental stimulation is important for brain health, and engaging the brain in meaningful ways every day is a crucial part of this process. The more you exercise your brain the stronger it is, so here’s how to give your brain a workout.
The benefits of stimulating your brain
Just like an athlete trains daily, your brain needs to be engaged in stimulating leisure activities in order to keep it functioning at a high level. Why? Research consistently finds that individuals with high levels of leisure activity have significantly less cognitive decline than those with lower levels¹.
Another study suggests that the more our brain is engaged with developing strategies to solve problems, and the more efficient the brain network is, the less likely one is to suffer from dementia symptoms².
The best activities to stimulate your brain
There are a number of different ways to exercise your brain, with most of them activities that are easily accessible and affordable. It also doesn’t have to be a chore! Here are some engaging and fun ways to get started in improving your cognitive health.
A study called The MoVIES Project found that having hobbies can protect against dementia, so whether it’s reading books, arts and crafts or doing crossword or jigsaw puzzles, it might be time to take up some new interests³.
Research has found evidence that playing chess could lead to the prevention of dementia in cognitively healthy populations⁴.
- Analogue games
A longitudinal study carried out over eight decades found a link between playing games such as cards, chess, or crossword puzzles and reduced risk of a lifetime decline in cognitive function. The study also found that playing games could achieve a positive change in cognitive function from as young as 11 through to 70⁵.
A study found that the more regularly people do number and word puzzles, the better they perform in tasks that assess memory, attention and reasoning⁶. The next time you want to pick up the remote and turn on the TV, why not pick up a Sudoku book instead?
The power of music
Both playing an instrument and listening to music may improve cognitive function and promote healthy aging.⁷ You don’t have to be a life-long musician to benefit from these effects: research has also found that taking up lessons in later life can provide similar cognitive enhancements.[ref] While playing an instrument offers the best neuroprotection, even regularly listening to music has been shown to improve memory, mood, sleep and executive cognitive function. Listening to enjoyable music can also reduce our perception of effort and fatigue in a difficult workout, helping us exercise for longer to maximise our brain health.
Music to the ears, wouldn’t you say?