19 Brain Workouts

19 Brain Workouts

19 Brain Workouts

 

You only have one brain. Work to improve it every day. 

 

Being busy is no excuse. 

 

Everyone can find 5 extra minutes: Here are 19 simple things you can do everyday (in five minutes or less) to improve your brain health.

 

  1. Attitude of Gratitude 

 

The act of being grateful improves mental health in a number of ways, such as making the grateful person less prone to depression and fostering stronger relationships. Becoming more grateful can also change the structure of your brain.

 

One group of scientists used MRI studies to demonstrate that volunteers who practiced daily gratitude had changes in brain anatomy. Neuroplasticity (the ability of brain cells to change) allowed their brain to rewire and resulted in increased happiness.

 

In one recent experiment, scientists studied the brains of 136 young, healthy adult volunteers with MRI. They found that the ratio of grey matter (thinking cells) to white matter (transmission cables) was variable, based upon how much gratitude the volunteers exhibited. The area of the brain affected in these experiments was the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The mPFC has many functions. It helps guide behavior and alters emotional states (e.g. happiness)  by relaying signals to remote brain structures associated with sensory processing, memory and emotions.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Write a thank you note to someone on a Post-It (your husband for washing the dishes, the mailman for keeping his appointed rounds in the wind and snow).

 

 

  • Generous Brain = Happy Brain

 

 

A prominent group of scientists reported that test subjects who spent money on others were happier than those who spent money on themselves. These researchers then examined the volunteers’ brains with MRI. The results revealed that generous people have a stronger white matter (cables of the brain) linkage between a brain area that contributes to happiness (ventral striatum) and the part of the brain that helps assess an action’s morality (temporoparietal junction)

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Buy an extra box of cookies when the girl scouts ring the bell.

 

 

  • Increase your optimism

 

 

Optimism and Anxiety are at war in your brain. Whichever one wins will change your brain structure forever. Scientists have reported that optimistic people have more activity in the front part of the cingulate gyrus (region that processes emotions and behavior) and orbitofrontal cortex (region of the brain that helps make high level decisions). Scientists have also reported that these areas of the brain may be hypoactive (not working properly) in depressed individuals. Because of neuroplasticity (the ability of brain cells to change) the power of positive thinking may help protect against depression.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Daily practice of optimism. Recognize the single best thing that happened today and recite it aloud.

 

 

  • Active body = Healthy brain

 

 

You can protect your brain by moving your body. Scientists have reported that most types of exercise will improve your brain health. A daily walk, especially in nature, or lifting weights have been shown to improve cognitive function. 

 

Frequent and regular aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial. One group of scientists demonstrated that exercise that elevates your heart rate and is performed 4 or 5 times a week for 30 minutes per session may even prevent dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers reported the strongest benefit in a part of the brain called the hippocampus (memory part of the brain). This type of activity decreases the accumulation of toxic proteins that can cause amyloid plaque (seen in Alzheimer’s disease) and damage neurons (brain cells) 

 

Not everyone has the time or ability to embark upon an extensive exercise program. Have no fear. Even much more limited physical activity has been proven to benefit the brain. The left hemisphere (side) of your brain is different than the right. The two sides have unique functions. When the left and right side of your brain communicate your whole brain works better. The main connection between the two sides of the brain is a thick band of white matter (axons) called the corpus callosum.Exercises that require coordination of all four limbs (cross country skiing, elliptical machine) improves the rapport between the two sides of the brain. Complex, cross body activities, such as juggling, improves the wiring of your brain (white matter) and increases the volume of the thinking part of your  brain (grey matter).

 

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Practice a dance move. This will get you up and moving and will involve both sides of your body.

 

 

  • Train your brain (it’s not in vain)

 

 

“Use it or Lose it,” is an adage that can be applied to your brain function. In the same way that you might budget time for the gym, you should schedule exercise time for your brain. Neuroscientists have reported that rigorous mental activities, like a game of chess or sudoku can cause your brain to release dopamine (a neurotransmitter, a chemical that passes between neurons (brain cells)). These beneficial chemicals fortify those parts of the brain and improve your learning abilities.

 

Dopamine has been reported to foster neuroplasticity (the ability of brain cells to change) across synapses (connection between cells) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is part of the primitive reward area of the brainstem (midbrain). It has been implicated in creating an imperative to learn.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Play a memory game. Take a deck of cards and separate out four pairs (eight cards). Place them face down in a random pattern on the coffee table (don’t peek). Turn them over (and back face down) one at a time until you identify the location of all the pairs. 

 

 

  • Art appreciation

 

 

Viewing the Mona Lisa  is good for your brain. So is admiring the dinosaur that your kindergarten age daughter drew (even if it looks more like a big bug). Humans have been creating art for 40,000 years. Scientists have reported that viewing artistic images increases the blood flow to your brain and also activates the reward area of your brain.

 

Why is increased blood flow potentially beneficial to your brain? Amongst the many reasons is this: Scientists, studying the skulls of our evolutionary ancestors, determined that the rate of blood flow to the brain may be a better indication of cognitive ability than brain size alone.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Google Mona Lisa or kindergarten dinosaur drawing today and investigate a different famous (or not so famous) artwork tomorrow.

 

 

  • Buen día cerebro

 

 

Learn a second language is good for your brain. Researchers have reported that multilingual people have less atrophy (wasting away) of the brain. More than that, the brains of polyglots have found to have areas which are more developed than their single language speaking peers: the dorsolateral frontal cortex (responsible for the executive function of the brain). Other studies have shown that those who learn a new language are less likely to have progressive dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Learn a few new words in a foreign language every day.

 

 

  • Good breakfast = Sharper mind 

 

 

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Scientists have reported that adolescents who ate breakfast had better grades in school than teenagers who went to school hungry. 

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Don’t skip breakfast. If you don’t have time for a stack of pancakes and some scrambled eggs, at least grab an oatmeal bar.

 

 

  • Turn up the heat

 

 

A hot shower soothes your sore muscles and makes your body feel great. Not only that, it is also good for your brain. Scientists have discovered that hot showers increase your brain’s production of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF helps neurons (brain and nerve cells) in three distinct ways. First, BDNF has been found to be essential in allowing neurons to thrive, grow and mature. Also, BDNF improves the survival of brain tissue that has been subjected to injuries (healing brain from stroke or trauma). Additionally, BDNF has been demonstrated to improve the function of the hippocampus (part of brain responsible for memory formation) and basal forebrain (part of brain that promotes and facilitates learning).

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: You’re in the shower anyway. Enjoy the heat for a minute longer, for your brain’s sake.

 

 

  • Gather ’round the campfire (or hearth)

 

 

Flickering firelight is good for your brain. Scientists have reported that mild light in an abstract and ever shifting pattern causes a hearth or campfire effect. Our ancestors gathered around a communal fire for warmth, cooking and to keep animals and insects at bay. 

 

The survival advantage that this conferred caused our brains to evolve. So, similar modern stimuli induces your brain into a state of relaxation as part of a multisensory, absorptive, and social experience.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Throw another log on the fire.

 

 

  • Friendship improves your brain health

 

 

Those with the strongest social bonds live longest

 

Researchers have reported that meaningful friendships may improve your blood pressure, your sleep, your stress responses, your immune system.

 

Social interaction with friends may improve thinking (cognitive function), language and memory in older individuals. 

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Reach out to a friend today. For your health and theirs.

 

 

  • Forgiveness improves your brain health.

 

 

When you forgive someone who wronged you your may brain fortify neuronal (brain cell) pathways and builds emotional resilience.

 

When you hold a grudge, important neuronal connections in the brain shut down.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: WHETHER THEY’RE SORRY OR NOT, LET GO OF THE GRUDGE AND FORGIVE SOMEONE

 

 

  • Use your whole brain.

 

 

The left hemisphere (side) of your brain is different from the right. The main connection between the two sides of the brain is a thick band of white matter (axons) called the corpus callosum.

 

Brain function is improved when different areas (movement, vision, reward) work together. This process is called Brain Network Integration and may be enhanced by exercises that require coordination of all four limbs (cross country skiing, elliptical machine). 

 

Complex, cross body activities, such as juggling, improves the wiring of your brain (white matter) and increases the volume of the thinking part of your brain (grey matter).

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Pick up 3 balls and learn to juggle.

 

  1.   Meditate

 

Multiple scientists have reported that meditation may be good for your brain.

 

Researchers have discovered that consistent practice of meditation may enhance Brain Network Integration (different parts of brain work together), increase Grey Matter in the brains of healthy people and reverse  atrophy in the brains of patients suffering from Neurodegeneration (like Alzheimer’s disease).

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Find a comfortable place. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. 

 

  1.   Spend quality time with your pet.

 

Not only man’s best friend…your dog may be good for your brain.

 

It’s in the DNA: Dog and human genetics reveal that receptors on our neurons (brain cells) evolved to complement each other.

 

When you pet your dog your brain and your dog’s brain release oxytocin, opioids, adrenaline, and serotonin (great reward chemicals and anti-stress chemicals)

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Tell your dog how good she is and scratch behind her ears

 

  1.     Active visualization

 

When you close your eyes and visualize something you activate networks of neurons (brain cells) often between far flung parts of the brain. The circuitry that joins the brain networks becomes stronger and the brain benefits. 

 

Not all visualizations are equal. Turning your thoughts outwards, thinking of things outside yourself (especially pleasant things), tends to make you happier. Linking thoughts to sensations increases vibrancy and increases the benefit to your brain.

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less per day: Visualize 3 nice things (example, the scent of coffee, the sound of the beach, the feel of the sun on your face)

 

  1. Use your non-dominant hand

 

Performing everyday tasks in different ways than you’re used to can give your brain a ‘jump start’ and spur a cascade of brain reactions that may permanently improve your brain structure and function. Changing things up a little is not only fun, but also may promote neuroplasticity and neurogenesis:

 

Your brain cells (neurons) and connections between cells can change (neuroplasticity) throughout life. Even as an adult, you can grow new brain cells (neurogenesis).

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Brush your teeth and comb your hair with your non-dominant hand (your left hand if you’re a righty)

 

  1.   Smell your way to a better brain

 

Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated that aromatherapy with essential oils such as lemon and lavender have beneficial effects on your brain (such as decreased anxiety and depression, better sleep and decreased pain)

 

What can you do in 5 minutes or less: Light up a scented candle.

 

  1.     Music can improve your brain

 

Listening to music has been reported to confer multiple brain benefits. Listening regularly may improve cognitive (thinking) function and prevent declines that may be associated with dementia and the aging brain function. Listening to music may alter brain structure in a way that improves behavior, mood (emotion) and ability to socialize.

 

Learning to play music may be even better for the brain than listening. Playing or practicing music, or singing, may change the structure and function of the hippocampus (part of brain responsibile for memory).

 

What you can do in 5 minutes or less: Turn on the radio, close your eyes and relax to your favorite tune.