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Exercises to Boost Your Brain Power

Strengthen Your Mind with These Healthy Habits

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The Research on "Brain Exercise"
It may seem weird, but you really can develop a plan to exercise your brain, similar to the way lifting weights increases your muscle strength. Instead of weight-training though, you train your brain to improve its attention and focus through a variety of mind exercises. Over time this allows you to better block out distractions and improve concentration.

In fact, researchers at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found that "attention training," such as regularly doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, can help keep older adults' minds young. The Brain Fitness in Older Adults (B-fit) study used brain scans to visualize blood flow and brain activity to determine how this type of training affects brain function. In the study, the training involved either a structured one-on-one mental workout program or a group brain exercise program. In the one-on-one sessions, subjects were asked to ignore distracting information as tasks got harder during the eight-week training. For the group sessions, participants learned new information relevant to healthy aging and were tested on their ability to apply the new information. Follow-up brain scans showed that in the group receiving the one-on-one training, activity related to sight was increased, while activity related to sound was decreased. In addition, performance on the task was improved. Basically, the one-on-one training allowed the older adults to better focus. Just like the old saying says, "Practice makes perfect!"

Your Brain-Building Plan
So, just how do you use this information to reap your own brain-boosting benefits? Try these great ideas to start exercising your own brain.
SparkPeople TriviaOmega-3 fatty acidsyogameditation
    1. Read something new every day. Challenge your brain by reading an article (like this one!) on something you aren't familiar with, or try reading a different type of literature like a poem or Shakespeare.

    2. Get trivial. Once a week, get together with your friends and play Trivial Pursuit or another trivia-based game. Remembering historical facts or pop culture tidbits can help work that brain of yours in new ways! You can even try each day!

    3. Eat brain-feeding foods. Nosh regularly on foods that are high in healthy fats, such as walnuts or salmon, both of which contain essential . Not only are they good for you, they're tasty too!

    4. Keep up with your workouts! In many of the brain research studies, those who were the most fit reaped the most brain benefits, so keep exercising regularly and challenging your body.

    5. De-stress regularly. Your brain can be negatively affected by stress, and studies performed at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital found that regular and practice can increase the size of the hippocampus.

    6. Hit the hay early and often. Studies have found that you need an average of eight hours of sleep a night for optimal brain function. It's also really good for your overall health and fitness—not to mention your mood!

    7. Play mind games. Whether it's a crossword puzzle, Soduku or Scrabble, engage your brain in some play most days of the week. And try to mix up your games. Just like building muscles, your brain will adapt as it grows stronger in one skill, so you have to keep challenging it in new ways.
Now that's some food for thought!

Sources:
Brain Builders, from ClubIndustry.com
Cardiorespiratory fitness and brain atrophy in early Alzheimer disease, from Neurology.com
Imaging correlates of brain function in monkeys and rats isolates a hippocampal subregion differentially vulnerable to aging, from PNAS.org
Improve Your Concentration with Brain Fitness Activities, from About.com
Strength Training for the Brain, from ClubIndustry.com
Three Pounds You Never Want to Lose, from PsychologyToday.com
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • PWEST12345
    5. De-stress regularly. Your brain can be negatively affected by stress, and studies performed at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital found that regular and practice can increase the size of the hippocampus.

    Was the error in 5. created on purpose? - 10/13/2014 8:15:14 AM
  • I particularly like step aerobics because of how it challenges my brain. I have to listen for the cues AND make my body move in complex patterns. I love it!

    I wish I enjoyed crossword puzzles and the like, but I really don't. Maybe I should try them again. - 4/6/2014 8:03:22 AM
  • There are a couple of places where there seems to be a word missing. - 9/22/2013 5:12:26 PM
  • Good article - 8/7/2012 7:11:38 AM
  • Makes me wonder about my Dad as he succumbed to Alzheimer's five years ago and his younger brother is still going strong at the age my Dad died at. Of course my uncle stayed more active. - 12/21/2011 10:25:26 PM
  • A fantastic way to exercise your brain and body simultaneously is to ballroom dance! Not only are you moving around and burning calories, you have to THINK about what you're doing almost exactly at the same time as what you're going to do NEXT! And THAT is a brain workout! - 3/30/2011 1:22:36 PM

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