The human brain functions in many ways to support how we think, feel, and move throughout the day. It acts as the command center for our entire body (1). But have you ever walked into a room to get something, then as you enter you forgot what you came for? Or has your thinking just been a bit cloudy lately? Maybe even everyday tasks have become more challenging? It's unfortunate, but as we get older, brain function can decline. The good news is there are simple things we can do at any age to boost our mental fitness.
Cognitive health, according to the National Institute on Aging, is the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember (2). It helps us perform everyday activities. But cognitive health is just one aspect of overall brain health. Brain health also includes emotional health and motor function — like how well we move and balance our bodies. Challenging your brain in new ways and caring for your mental health can boost your brain health. To get started, you can introduce a variety of fun activities into your regular routine.
Playing games and doing puzzles can help train your brain. Studies show that solving jigsaw puzzles can engage many cognitive abilities like visual perception and long-term memory (3). Other types of puzzles and games like crosswords, Sudoku, word searches, chess, Scrabble, and card games can also keep your mind engaged to help with memory, attention, and reasoning (4). You can try games on your phone or computer too, since there are many apps with a variety of brain games.
Learn a new skill
Challenge your mind by learning a new skill. It can be something in the arts like drawing, painting, knitting, or woodworking. Studying a new language or reading a book can help you build your vocabulary. Learning to play music and activities like cooking or baking can engage your mind and benefit your mental health.
Relax your mind
Limit activities that you might do mindlessly, like watching too much TV or endlessly scrolling social media. These activities won’t support your cognitive function in the long term. Log out of technology and log into more mindful activities. Studies show meditation may result in many health benefits for your body and mind, including stress relief, decrease in blood pressure, and an increase in memory, focus, and efficiency (5). There are many types of meditation you can try, such as breath awareness or a walking meditation. You can also bring purpose and focus to activities you do throughout the day.
Stay socially connected to loved ones
Social connections are important for our mental health. When we exchange smiles, hugs or conversations, it helps to release oxytocin in our brains which is known as the feel good chemical! Even if you can’t get together in person, there are many ways you can stay connected and show you care. Schedule a phone or a video call with a friend, for example. Staying connected also helps us learn
more meaningful ways to resolve conflicts, think critically
and grow as individuals.
Practice tasks with your other hand
Studies show that doing tasks like writing with your non-dominant hand can help increase brain activity (6). So if you’re right-handed, practice tasks like writing, drawing, or brushing your teeth with your left hand. Using your non-dominant hand can create new neural pathways in the brain. Plus, it can be a win-win when you clean your teeth and work your brain at the same time.
The classic cliche still holds true, if you don't use it, you lose it. Whether it's a physical skill or mental sharpness, it's important to keep your mind and body challenged to help counter some of the disadvantages in the aging process. Try to apply some of these activities to your weekly routine. Start small then little by little, let the weekly goals evolve into daily goals. In addition to trying brain-boosting activities, remember to also focus on your total health. That includes sleeping well, eating nutritious foods, and staying active and hydrated. Happy brain-boosting fam!
1. Tanya Lewis et al., “Human Brain: Facts, Functions & Anatomy,” Live Science, May 28, 2021.
2. National Institute on Aging, “Cognitive Health and Older Adults,” October 1, 2020.
3. Patrick Fissler et al., “Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential
Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging,” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, October 1, 2018.
4. University of Exeter, “Regular Crosswords and Number Puzzles Linked to Sharper Brain in Later Life,” ScienceDaily, May 16, 2019.
5. Hari Sharma, “Meditation: Process and Effects,” AYU, July-September 2015.
6. Benjamin A. Philip et al., “Increased Functional Connectivity Between Cortical Hand Areas and Praxis Network Associated with Training-Related Improvements in Non-Dominant Hand Precision Drawing,” Neuropsychologia, July 2016.