Brain Health

11 (Fun) Brain Exercises To Promote Cognitive Function

Everything we do involves our brain. From thinking to cleaning our teeth to dreaming, our grey matter plays an integral part in it all. Alongside our heart, the brain is the most important organ in our body; therefore, it deserves the utmost care and attention to keep it working in optimal condition. 

However, exercising our brain or ‘brain training’ as it is commonly called, is something that very few of us actually do. Although the number of these so-called ‘brain training’ games and apps has increased, and the phenomenon of exercising our brains has risen to prominence over the last several years, the vast majority of us still take our brains for granted. Although, I guess if you’re reading this article (thank you for stopping by, by the way!), you’ve realised that you don’t want to take your grey matter of granted and want to keep it in tip-top shape for as long as possible. Right?

Well, if you are interested in finding out how you can work out your brain to improve your short- and long-term cognitive function, you’re in luck. In today’s piece, we’re going to examine the world of ‘brain training’ and discuss 11 science-backed brain exercises you can do to boost brain health and function.


Jigsaw Puzzles

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “Jigsaw puzzles? Do they still exist? Aren’t they for old people?”. First of all, respect your elders (!), and secondly, yes, they do still exist – and they’re really good for brain health and function. 

A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in 2018 examined how jigsaw puzzles how affect cognitive function in adults and concluded that “…jigsaw puzzling recruits multiple visuospatial cognitive abilities and is a…protective factor for visuospatial ageing.”1. In layman’s terms, when piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, you have to find specific pieces and identify where they fit into the larger picture – and doing this type of task can have positive effects on your brain.


Card Games

Like jigsaws, card games are often viewed as something belonging in yesteryear. However, just like jigsaws, they can have a positive impact on brain function. 

A study published in the Brain Imaging and Behaviour journal in 2015 looked into how playing card games affected cognitive function in adults who had an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Researchers concluded that “…this study found that participation in cognitive activities involving games and puzzles is related to better cognitive abilities and larger volumes in AD-vulnerable brain structures in a cohort of at-risk, middle-aged adults.”2. In short, the mental stimulation a game of cards provides can induce increased volume in several areas of the brain, in addition to enhancing memory and thinking abilities. 

Classic card games such as solitaire, bridge, poker and rummy are perfect for choices.


Expand Your Vocabulary

Having an expansive vocabulary might make you sound smart, but does it actually enhance brain function? According to a study published in 2016, it can. Researchers discovered that a greater number of areas of the brain are involved in vocabulary-based tasks; specifically regions that are essential for auditory and visual processing3.


Dancing

Yes, you read that right – it does say ‘dancing’. But how can dancing affect brain function and health? Well, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, the process of learning new dance moves may enhance the processing speed of your brain, in addition to boosting memory4. So next time someone grabs your hand and tries to pull you on the dance floor, give it a go – your brain will thank you!


Use All Five Senses

On the face of it, this may seem like an unlikely way to improve brain function, given that we all use all five senses on a daily basis. However, combining all five senses at once is a scientifically-proven way to give your grey matter a little boost. According to a study published in 2015, tasks that simultaneously use all five senses may help to strengthen multiple areas of your brain5. If you’re short of ideas or aren’t really sure which activities involve all five senses, here’s a brief list:

– Baking.

– Visiting a new restaurant.

– Visiting a local food market. 


New Skills

Learning new skills is not only fun; it’s rewarding too. Whenever I learn something new, I experience a great sense of achievement and mild-euphoria, which is not uncommon when gaining new knowledge and accomplishments (I’m sure you’re the same, too!). But learning new skills goes beyond feeling good – it can also help to fortify connections within your brain. 

A 2014 study examined the effects of learning a new skill on memory function in older adults and concluded that, “the research [conducted in the study] provides clear evidence that memory function is improved by engagement in demanding everyday tasks.”6 So, if there’s something new you want to try, give it a go – your brain will thank you in years to come!


Listening to Music

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make you feel good, it’s listening to your favourite songs. However, did you know that putting on your favourite tunes is also a way to enhance creative brainpower?

According to a study published in 2017 that tested whether listening to specific types of music had a greater effect on ignition than silence, “Creativity was higher for participants who listened to ‘happy music’ (i.e., classical muscle high on arousal and positive mood) while performing the…creativity task, than for participants who performed the task in silence.”7. In layman’s terms, listening to happy music can improve creativity and brainpower. 


Meditation

If there’s one activity (or lack of activity!) that is associated with a clear and stress-free of mind, it’s meditation. Performing this age-old relaxation technique can have profound effects on breathing, calmness, stress and anxiety. But were you aware that mediation may also help to enhance your memory and improve the ability of your brain to process information?

Well, research published by the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests meditation can have a subtle effect on cognition and memory8 – two facets of brain function that are crucial to every you do on a daily basis. So, if you find yourself with ten minutes to spare, why not sit down, relax and meditate – it could improve your cognitive function and memory.


Languages

The ability to speak more than one language has been shown on many occasions to have a plethora of cognitive benefits. A review of studies published in 2012 concluded that “The cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism extend from early childhood to old age as the brain more efficiently processes information and staves off cognitive decline.”9. In short, bilingualism can improve memory and visual-spatial skills, in addition to boosting creativity. Furthermore, being able to understand speak two or more languages may help you to switch between two different tasks more efficiently and easily, and may even delay age-ranted cognitive decline. 


Different Routes

Repeating the same tasks in exactly the same way over and over again can cause stagnation – not only in your mind but within the inner workings of your brain. Therefore, changing things up and trying new ways is the order of the day. 

Research has shown that taking different routes or using various forms of transport to get to work each day can have a positive impact on brain function and potentially brain health in years to come10. What’s more, it’s really simple to implement, so what are you waiting for…?


Tai Chi

Tai Chi – “an internal Chinese martial art practised for both its defence training, health benefits and meditation”11 – has a multitude of benefits, largely revolving around your mind and mental health. It has been used for centuries to improve sleep quality, decrease stress, and enhance memory.

In fact, a study published in 2013 concluded that “…our findings may suggest the difference in cortical thickness for TCC [Tai Chi Chuan] practitioners might be associated with TCC practise.”12. In layman’s terms, they discovered that practising Tai chai over the long term could increase brain volume by inducing structural changes within the brain.


11 Ways to ‘Train Your Brain’: A Conclusion 

The examples of activities that can boost cognition, brain health and decrease the risk of age-related neurological decline mentioned in this article exemplify just how simple it can be to enhance the vitality of your grey matter. 

While performing such tasks and activities alone may have a positive effect on your brain, it is imperative that any ‘brain training’ you partake it is accompanied by a nutrition plan rich in vitamins, minerals and micronutrients (particular those shown to promote brain health – as can be read about here), in addition to an exercise regime that keeps you active several times per week. This triumvirate of lifestyle choices will help you to optimise your cognitive function in both short and long terms, as well as staving off age-related cognitive decline as you age. 


Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog; we really do appreciate it a lot! If you’d like to learn more about brain health, cognitive function, nootropics (‘smart drugs’), and everything related to our grey matter, feel free to head over to our homepage and browse our blog posts. Or, alternatively, use the search function if there’s a topic you’re specifically interested in.

If you can’t find information on a specific brain-related topic, get in touch and we’ll try and write a blog post on it!


References:

1. Fissler, P. et al., 2018. Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging. Frontiers in aging neuroscience. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174231/

2. Schultz, S.A. et al., 2015. Participation in cognitively-stimulating activities is associated with brain structure and cognitive function in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Brain imaging and behavior. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417099/

3. Anderson et al., 2016. Vocabulary and the Brain: Evidence from Neuroimaging Studies. arXiv.org. Available at: https://arxiv.org/abs/1611.10003

4. Anon, 2018. Dance Your Way to Better Brain Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/features/alzheimers-and-exercise/index.html

5. Quak, M., London, R.E. & Talsma, D., 2015. A multisensory perspective of working memory. Frontiers in human neuroscience. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404829/

6. Park, D.C. et al., 2014. The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: the Synapse Project. Psychological science. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154531/#R13

7. Ritter, S.M. & Ferguson, S., Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking. PLOS ONE. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182210

8. Anon, Meditation: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth

9. Marian, V. & Shook, A., 2012. The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/

10. Maguire, E.A., Frackowiak, R.S.J. & Frith, C.D., 1997. Recalling Routes around London: Activation of the Right Hippocampus in Taxi Drivers. Journal of Neuroscience. Available at: https://www.jneurosci.org/content/17/18/7103.full

11. Anon, 2020. Tai chi. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi

12. Wei, G.-X. et al., 2013. Can Taichi reshape the brain? A brain morphometry study. PloS one. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621760/