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Mental Stimulation

How can I stimulate my brain?

The more you exercise your brain the stronger it is, so here’s how to give your brain a workout.
October 17, 2022

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.

Hobbies

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.

Playing games

  • Chess

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.

  • Sudoku

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?

Read more about the 10 tips to keep a healthy brain

References:

  1. Scarmeas, N., Levy, G., Tang, M. X., Manly, J., & Stern, Y. (2001). Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology, 57(12), 2236-2242.
  2. Stern Y. (2002). What is cognitive reserve? Theory and research application of the reserve concept. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 8(3):448-460
  3. Hughes TF, Chang CC, Vander Bilt J, Ganguli M. (2010). Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: the MoVIES project. American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias. 25(5):432–438 
  4. Lillo-Crespo M, Forner-Ruiz M, Riquelme-Galindo J, Ruiz-Fernández D, García-Sanjuan S. (2019). Chess practice as a protective factor in dementia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16(12):2116
  1. Altschul DM, Deary IJ. (2020). Playing analog games is associated with reduced declines in cognitive function: A 68-year longitudinal cohort study, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. 75(3):474–482
  1. Palmer S. (2019). Word and number puzzles linked to higher cognitive function. Nursing and Residential Care. 21(7)
  1. Kim SJ, Yoo GE. (2019) Instrument playing as a cognitive intervention task for older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. 10:1-13
  2. Guo, X., Yamashita, M., Suzuki, M., Ohsawa, C., Asano, K., Abe, N., ... & Sekiyama, K. (2021). Musical instrument training program improves verbal memory and neural efficiency in novice older adults. Human brain mapping, 42(5), 1359-1375.
  3. Innes, K. E., Selfe, T. K., Brundage, K., Montgomery, C., Wen, S., Kandati, S., ... & Huysmans, Z. (2018). Effects of meditation and music-listening on blood biomarkers of cellular aging and Alzheimer’s disease in adults with subjective cognitive decline: An exploratory randomized clinical trial. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 66(3), 947-970.
  4. Karageorghis, C. I., & Priest, D. L. (2012). Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part I). International review of sport and exercise psychology, 5(1), 44-66.

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