Just like every other organ in the body, the brain grows, develops, and declines with every stage of human life. The brain is easily the most complex organ in the body, as it functions as the control center, the memory, and the ultimate epicenter and perceiver of the entire human experience. When brain functionality is compromised for any reason, including disease, old age, or injury, every facet of life may become more challenging. Those who experience compromised brain health may experience memory loss, anxiety, and changes in mood or typical behavior. Day-to-day tasks, such as eating, driving, and bathing may become difficult or impossible for one to manage on their own. Luckily, there are preventative and restorative exercises for brain health that can be done to maintain optimal condition.
According to the American Heart Association, a whopping 3 out of 5 adults will develop a brain disease in their lifetime. Many factors may contribute to optimal brain health and performance, including eating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet and getting ample sleep each night. Additionally, staying in good physical shape and actively engaging parts of the brain with mental exercises (AKA neurobic exercises) can improve cognitive function and help to ensure the longevity of this major organ. If you would like to learn more about the best exercises for brain health, read on for our top five recommendations.
5 Best Exercises for Brain Health
1. AEROBIC EXERCISES
Cardio and aerobic exercises are some of the best exercises for brain health. Getting your blood and lungs pumping can truly be a game-changer for your entire body, and your “command center” is no exception. If you are wondering what exactly does aerobic exercise do for the brain? The answer (according to an article published by Harvard Medical School), is that increased blood flow can boost the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.
Resistance training, balance, and muscle toning were not shown to have the same effect. So, anything that increases your heart rate is also going to help your brain stay healthy. Going for walks, jogging, HIIT training, and swimming are all great ways to promote brain health. Engaging in cardio-centric activities can also help with clearing, “brain fog.” These exercises will help you think more clearly and quickly.
2. DRAW A MAP FROM MEMORY
In addition to physical exercise, there are brain-specific neurobic exercises that can help strengthen and preserve memory and cognitive function. One of these activities is to draw a map of your town from memory. Don’t cheat by looking at a map or cell phone app. Include your house, any major landmarks, streets, intersections, or places you frequent. Try to be as specific and detailed as you possibly can. When you are finished, compare it with a store-bought or digital map.
You will likely be surprised by seemingly obvious features you may have missed. Anything that exercises your memory-recall functionality can actually improve your overall memory function. As an added bonus, use your non-dominant hand to draw the map. Skip down to number four on this list to learn why.
3. LEARN A NEW SKILL
Learning something new, such as an instrument, a sport, or a foreign language definitely takes commitment and discipline. The reward, however, transcends the knowledge of simply knowing a new skill. By actively engaging in challenging new patterns and routines, you are creating brand new connections between parts of your brain.
Think of your brain as a city full of rivers and valleys. By repeating new patterns, you are building bridges. Once the bridges are in place, you can travel throughout the city with far more efficiency than you could before. Learning new things is, by far, one of the best exercises for brain health.
4. USE YOUR NON-DOMINANT HAND
Similar to drawing a map from memory, completing tasks with your non-dominant hand (such as eating or writing) can be a powerful neurobic exercise. In training your “opposite” side to do what is otherwise familiar, you are actually changing the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of your brain. You are intentionally building another “bridge.”
Ambidexterity can certainly be learned. If you primarily work from a desktop computer, consider switching your mousepad back and forth to either side once in a while. If you are an athlete, consider switching which hand you pitch with, which leg you kick with, or which side you hold your golf club. Writing is another way to train your non-dominant side. An added bonus to learning ambidexterity is that in case of an injury on your dominant hand, you will have a back-up solution ready to roll.
“Put me in, coach!”
Who would’ve thought that intentionally silencing the mind can actually strengthen the power of the brain? It doesn’t seem likely, but mindfulness meditation has a myriad of benefits, including brain cell regeneration. According to a study conducted by Harvard, engaging the body’s relaxation response (even just a single time) can reduce the body’s response to inflammation and strengthen DNA stability.
In addition to the direct correlation with brain functionality, meditation often also involves breathing exercises. As discussed earlier, anything cardio-related helps to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This improves cognitive function and longevity. The benefits of meditation are actually far greater than those of sleep. If you have to choose between the two, an hour of mindful visualization and breathing will have a greater impact on your overall health than an hour of sleep.
Similar to any major organ in the body, exercising, preserving, and protecting the brain is extremely important. When the brain begins to decline, day-to-day life may become increasingly more challenging for an individual and anyone around them. In addition to ample exercise, be sure to get enough sleep each night and eat a well-balanced diet. The habitual consumption of supplements may also help to increase brain health. Consider adding fish oil, folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and vitamin D to a nutrient-dense diet.