Brain exercises have been around for some time and often not without controversy.
Sergio Della Sala, a Scottish Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience debunked many of the earlier mythical routines, such as breathing through the left nostril in order to supply extra oxygen to the right side of the brain. He also challenged other brain boosting theories such as drinking red wine or listening to classical music.
But despite this, brain exercises have never gone out of fashion and many sources will confirm the validity of particular routines and practices in increasing mental ability.
Specialised brain gyms are now beginning to pop up, whilst some ‘conventional’ gyms are adding cerebral work out rooms.
We’ve listed the most common ‘daily routines for boosting mental power’ below. All of these will boost the level of acetylcholine, the chemical that helps build your brain.
1. BUILD CONNECTIONS – The human brain is all about neural connections. You can build and strengthen these biological connections by making mental connections.
To do this, try reading something you wouldn’t normally. Read a magazine on a subject matter you wouldn’t normally choose to read about. Your mind will look for connections in the subject matter that you are reading about relating to subjects you are interested in.
Try listening to audio books when you’re driving, it’s a great way of tackling some of those ‘classics’ and most libraries carry stacks of audio books on CD.
Look at the world around you in a new way and try and find solutions to problems in your life from inspiration of the ‘infa-structure’ and ‘execution’ of the things, projects, architecture all around us. Looking for and finding connections is like firing up a super charger for the brain and in fact many of our everyday solutions around us have been created by people ‘connecting with’ and finding inspiration from nature.
2. BUILD NEW PATHWAYS – A bit like building new connections, but this time, by forcing new pathways by physical rather than mental activity.
Try doing something in a new way. If you’re right handed use your left hand. Swop your computer mouse from your normal hand to your other hand. Yes its exhausting and hard work, but that’s the point, you’re giving your brain a workout.
3. BUILD YOUR MEMORY – Your memory is much like your muscles, it fades with a lack of use. Its often one of the first cognitive activities that we notice when it begins to dwindle with age.
You need to exercise your memory. Make a special effort to remember peoples names (there are special techniques to do this), learn the lyrics to a song as your drive, learn some poetry. Here’s a cool one that will always impress, learn some Shakespeare off by heart and recite it regularly…
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
4. BUILD YOUR ATTENTION SPAN – After memory, the next cognitive activity we most notice falling away, is our ‘attention span’.
Often we just accept this and don’t challenge it. Again this is a ‘skill’ you need to practice and exercise to keep ‘fit’. Try to write something with some music on next to you. If that seems simple enough, turn the music up till you find it distracting and then try to write. This is a great, but very simple exercise to practice focussing the mind.
Try listening to an audio book as you do physical exercise or process a problem in your head as you engage in some other ‘mentally challenging’ activity.
5. BUILD YOUR LANGUAGE & MUSIC SKILLS – Bananas are often referred to as ‘brain food’ and there is plenty of evidence supporting this. But if there was one ‘food’ that guarantees brain growth, it’s the ‘food’ of language.
Learning new words, understanding grammar and forming, manipulating and digesting complex sentences stimulate the brain and its neural connections in a very unique way.
Of course, it goes without saying that learning a whole new language is a great way of exercising your brain. And just as some of us are good at cycling but not running, or good at swimming but not squash, some people can soak up new languages with no effort at all.
In a similar way, understanding, digesting and manipulating complex musical passages and sequences can stimulate very specific parts of the brain. And again, it takes a very specific kind of person to be able to play an instrument or write music. But give it a try and feel it!
6. BUILD YOUR BRAIN ‘HEADROOM’ – Take some time out to try and search your sub-conscious for those deep rooted internal conflicts and irritations. Fish them out and write them down, make a list if there are several. They can be anything from getting worked up about a miss-placed magazine or household object.
Whatever it is, these ‘anxieties’ can eat up our brain ‘processing power’ by raging away in the back ground. That’s why so many people say they feel better when they’re aired a problem or concern with a friend. Many people will observe ‘they didn’t realise how much of a weight they were carrying around on their shoulders until they tackled it’.
Free your mind, find these conflicts and irritations and write them down. Often just committing them to paper is therapy in itself. But if you tackle them one by one you will feel amazing mental liberation.
7. BUILD YOUR REASONING SKILLS – Just as loading the body with physical activity is the way to build your muscles, loading the mind with strategic puzzles and challenging it with issues that require reasoning will build your mental powers.
These kind of mental exercises can take many forms; from classic puzzle books, board games such as chess, to more physical-mental activities such as squash.
Problem solving of any kind will require challenging your mind with reasoning. But actually there are lots of other less obvious ways of building your reasoning skills. Try starting conversations with strangers. The process of making connections between their anecdotes and life experiences, and yours, stimulates reasoning and builds those connections mentioned earlier on. Even better still, try engaging in a passionate conversation with someone about there particular field of expertise which isn’t shared by you.
All of the above are simple, easy to do, daily exercises for the brain and mind. Give them a try and let us know how you get on, or suggest some others. We want to hear from you.
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