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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts 6 Reasons Why Taking Up Digital Skills And Knowledge Is Crucial How To Make the Right Career Choice After 30 And Succeed How to Protect Your Mental Health in Tough Times How To Be Successful In Leadership As an Introverted Leader

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Last Updated on May 25, 2021

12 Proven Ways To Increase Your Intellectual Wellness

12 Proven Ways To Increase Your Intellectual Wellness

Are you looking for ways to boost your brainpower, think faster, increase your cognitive capacity, and improve your overall health and happiness? If yes, then it’s time to focus on increasing your intellectual wellness.

Many people focus on their physical wellness and taking care of their bodies. However, it’s just as critical to dedicate time and energy to keep your mind healthy. Not only does intellectual wellness improve all of the above, but engaging in mentally stimulating activities may also reduce cognitive impairment and put you at a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What Is Intellectual Wellness?

So, what is wellness?

“Wellness as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Intellectual wellness, therefore, is an active pursuit of working towards an optimal intellectual state. It can include being open to new ideas, thinking critically, expanding your knowledge and skills, exposing yourself to new ideas, people, and beliefs, discovering more about yourself and your potential, being open to different perspectives, and fostering creativity.

12 Ways to Increase Intellectual Wellness

Lots of supplement companies make millions of dollars claiming to improve your brainpower and brain health. Do they work? Maybe. But there are plenty of things you can do, free of charge, to increase your intellectual wellness and improve your brain function.

Here are 12 ways to increase your intellectual wellness.

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1. Try Something New

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. Historically, scientists believed that the brain stopped growing after childhood. But current research shows that the brain can continue growing and changing throughout the lifespan.[1] Your brain can change and adapt through stimulation, stress, and experiences. Your job? To provide those experiences!

What new thing will you try to do outside your comfort zone? You could pick up a new sport, travel to a new location and learn about its history, learn a foreign language, or take a class at the local community college. What challenge will you choose to expand your brainpower?

2. Read

One of the common habits of the most successful people in the world? They read. Oprah, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg, LeBron James are all avid readers.

So, what should you read? Anything that expands your mindset, your views, your experiences, and your knowledge. It can be a magazine, newspaper, or a good fiction or non-fiction book. It doesn’t matter. If it stimulates your mind and generates interest or allows you to learn something new or explore something interesting, dive in—your mind will thank you for it.

3. Exercise

Not only is exercise good for your heart and body, but it can also help improve another major muscle, your brain. In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise—the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping—appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.[2]

Other studies show that aerobic exercise stimulates the release of the substance known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports the growth of new connections in your brain. Ultimately, exercise enhances your learning, sharpens your memory, and helps you feel better overall.

Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise—walking, running, biking, swimming—three to five times per week.[3]

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4. Be Social

We are social beings hardwired for connection. That means we need to spend time engaging with others to thrive as we learn how to get a life we can enjoy. Studies have shown that people who socialize often have higher levels of happiness than those who don’t.[4] Plus, when you’re around others, we learn and grow because we hear different perspectives and new stories.

Make an effort to grow and nurture healthy relationships in your life. Spend time—either in person or virtually—with friends, family, and colleagues. Join a meetup hiking group, take a cooking or dance class, or join a recreational sports team. Attend the office (virtual) happy hour. Make a concerted effort to make deeper connections, listen attentively, and learn from the people around you.

5. Stay Curious

Curiosity increases brain activity and activation. Being curious about something not only improves learning about that specific subject but increases your overall learning and retention capabilities, too.[5]

Curious how your car engine works? Take it apart. Curious why your local baker started her bakery? Ask her. Curious about the plant-based movement? Watch a documentary. Identify one thing that you wish you understood better—big or small, it doesn’t matter. Just find something you’re curious about, explore that thing, and activate your brain!

6. Eat Well

The food you eat fuels not just your body but your brain. In fact, your brain consumes about 20% of your daily calories![6] Inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, and refined carbs affect you negatively, while clean, nutrient-dense foods affect you positively.

Some great food sources for brain health include antioxidants in blueberries, micronutrients such as magnesium and zinc in pumpkin seeds, vitamin K, folate, and beta carotene in green leafy vegetables, flavonoids in chocolate, lutein, and the healthy fats and compounds in nuts, specifically walnuts. Why do you think they’re shaped like a brain?! Increase your intellectual wellness by including a couple of these foods consistently into your diet.

7. Get Creative

Creativity stimulates your intellectual wellness and improves your overall health. Take music, for example. You’ve likely heard that music makes you smarter. One study showed that executive functions (EF) were enhanced in musicians compared to non-musicians. These include problem-solving, working memory, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.[7]

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Not the musical type? That’s okay! You can get creative through doodling, painting, crafting, writing, photography, pottery, or even gardening—anything where you can come with an open heart and mind and dive in with curiosity and exploration.

8. Stay Hydrated

The human brain is composed of over 75% water, with some studies suggesting that the number is closer to 85%. What do you think happens when we are dehydrated? You guessed it—the cells in your brain are dehydrated too, and you experience brain fog, loss of focus, memory as well as headaches, and emotional issues like moodiness and fatigue. According to research, “water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.”[8]

Do you want to improve your focus and clarity? Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses daily. Increase the hydration factor by adding electrolytes or a little sea salt to increase absorption into your cells.

9. Sleep

Sleep. Sleep, you say? Doesn’t that seem like an odd thing to do if I want to grow my intellectual capacity? Shouldn’t I be actively doing something? When we sleep, our brain removes stored toxins and takes out the ‘mental trash,’ which allows our brains to function better. According to research, “sleep has a restorative function. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects.”[9]

I used to wear it as a badge of honor that I didn’t sleep much. Maybe you do, too. However, studies continue to emerge on the importance of getting enough quality sleep and, more importantly, the consequences when you don’t. Make getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a priority. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

10. Practice Self-Reflection

Just like physical wellness is about growth and strength, so is intellectual wellness. Taking the time to reflect on yourself and your life is a great way to engage your brain.

Self-reflection is defined as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.” It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior, and beliefs. Self-reflection improves self-awareness, provides perspective, facilitates a deeper learning level, challenges your assumptions, enables learning and growth opportunities, and even improves confidence.

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Like the idea but not sure where to start? Here are some great tips for self-reflection.

11. Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness seem to be the answer to all that ails you, and yes, they can help with increasing your brainpower, too. Meditation allows you to calm your thoughts and achieve greater mental and emotional clarity.

Don’t want to meditate? Just breathe. Deep breathing increases circulation by bringing oxygen to your muscles and brain. It initiates your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), promoting a state of calmness and quiets your mind.

What happened when you started to read this? Did you take a deep breath? Great, you should be feeling much clearer. Practicing deep breathing or meditation for just five minutes a day will make a huge difference in your intellectual wellness.

12. Pick Up Your Rubik’s Cube

Okay, you can probably tell I’m a child of the ’80s. Games can help exercise your brain and improve your long-term and working memory. Working through puzzles or finding words in patterns uses a great amount of brainpower. Increasing your ability to work through these activities can maintain and build your intellectual wellness.[10]

Want to go old school? Pick up a crossword puzzle, grab your book of sudoku, or play a game of chess. New school? Grab your smartphone for a game of Words with Friends or check out one of the many free brain game apps like Lumosity or Brain HQ.

Ready to Get Started?

You don’t need to do all of these to increase your intellectual wellness. Think of these as a menu to improve your brainpower and mental stimulation. Your next step? Identify two to three items you will commit to trying, then go out and do them.

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Your brain controls your body and your overall health and well-being—it’s time to commit to actively increasing intellectual wellness. Your brain will thank you for it!

More on Intellectual Wellness

Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

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