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Workout for the Brain

What comes to mind when you hear the word Brain? The stuff in our head, where we think and reason from, right?

How about when you hear the word work out? Physical exercises.
A large majority of people are not aware of having a brain work out even though most of the time, we unconsciously engage in it.

Just the same way we lose muscles after some time of no physical workout, our brains can weaken/degenerate as well. However, the brain has a cognitive reserve (the mind’s resistance to damage of the brain), it lessens as the years’ progress, and this can make it increasingly hard to perform mental tasks. For this reason, it is essential to have a brain-healthy lifestyle and conduct regular, and targeted brain exercises can also increase your brain’s cognitive reserve.

Doing certain brain workouts to help boost your memory, concentration, and focus can make daily tasks quicker and easier to do, and keep your brain sharp as you age. Individuals (irrespective of the age) can benefit from including a few simple brain exercises into their daily life.

It is a known fact that the body gets weary from lack of physical activity, so also does your brain gets sluggish and slow from doing the same thing, the same way over and over again. Adding a mix of new activities to your daily routines is key to a healthier, sharper mind.

Experts agree that for an activity to stimulate your brain enough to exercise it, it must meet two criteria; the activity must be both novel and complex.
As we age, it is essential to exercise the brain to improve memory, focus, and daily functionality by simply integrating a few simple brain exercises into their daily routine, some of which we will discover as we read on.

Benefits You Can Expect from Brain Exercise
Brain exercise is reported to help in multiple ways:
• Increased concentration and awareness
• Faster thinking and reaction time
• Greater self-confidence
• Less stress
• sharper vision and hearing
• Increased positive mood
• Enhanced creativity and mental flexibility
• boost in productivity

Here are some exercises you can incorporate in your day to day activities:

1. Do Things Reversed or opposite
You do not have to stand on your hands or head to do this (LOL). Stimulate your brain by looking at things reversed; you start with is placing the calendar, wall clock or your wristwatch upside down, this stimulates your brain to think each time you glance to check the date, clock or watch. Once you get used to that, you can try putting or places other things in reverse, upside down or opposite. One good example is writing backwards, known as mirror writing.

2. Close your eyes while doing chores
When engaging/doing certain activities such as doing your laundry, washing your hair, shower, etc. try doing it with your eyes closed. This will give you a good idea of your mental picture capability and force your brain to use new neural pathways.
P.S: do not do anything with your eyes closed that could put you or others in danger.

3. Instantaneously use all your senses.
You might be thinking about how possible this is, and I am happy to let you know that this is possible. Some activities simultaneously engage all your senses and give your brain a chance to work out, such as going to the farmers’ market or going to a restaurant; doing this, you get to focus on seeing, touching, smelling, tasting and hearing all at the same time.

4. Take new paths/routes.
Many of us are used to taking paths/routes we are very familiar with, this puts our brain on autopilot, and it gets little stimulation but taking a new course or an unfamiliar route triggers the cortex and hippocampus. Taking new paths can be done when driving, biking, walking, or using public transportation.

5. Engage in Social Connections.
One of the easiest way (to some people) to learning something new is by connecting with others and spending time with people, especially those you are not so familiar with; by doing so, you expose yourself to new ideas and other ways of thinking about things. Intentionally engaging with people who are from different backgrounds and have different interest, opens you up to new ideas and perspectives which will stimulate mental growth.

6. Do something new and exciting.
Try out a new dish, travel somewhere you have never been before, take up a new hobby; generally, do things you have never done before and totally out of character for you but in a safe way/environment. We do not want you hurting yourself. New and exciting experiences activate the release of dopamine, the “motivation” neurotransmitter, and stimulate the creation of new neurons.

7. Go beyond what you already know, Master it!
Learning something new help stimulate the brain, but as soon as you get used to it, the mental benefit stops because your brain becomes more efficient at the activity. Staying out of your comfort zone is the only way to stimulate the brain; so once you feel you are good at something or a task, challenge yourself to another level or learn a new related skill. Learning and mastering chess, learning a new language, playing a musical instrument is ideal brain work out because there is always more to learn.

8. Lifelong Learning
“Once you stop learning, you start dying”, said Albert Einstein.
Learning has been made easy with the help of technology (the Internet). Some websites offer online courses, career developments, and skill acquisition programs to encourage lifelong learning. Here is some website that provides a wide range of lifelong learning, the best part is most are free: Udemy, Alison, ShawAcademy, TED iPad app, virtual piano keyboard, Daily Art, Chess.com, Duolingo, InsightTimer.

9. Meditation
Our brains never stop thinking, even when you feel you are not doing anything, your brain is working round the clock, pouring out up to 70,000 thoughts daily and 90% of these thoughts are the same day in, day out. Meditation may be the most challenging mental work out and therefore, the best. It is hard work training the mind to be quiet even for a minute, so just like physical exercise meditation is called the “pushup of the brain”. The benefits of meditation include enhanced memory and learning ability, improved focus, attention and mood, and the reversal of brain deterioration.

10. Physical exercise
Physical exercise plays a vital role in brain workout as it helps in keeping your brain in good shape. Some of the importance of Physical exercise on the brain are as follows:
• Increases dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin (feel-good brain chemicals) and reduces cortisol (stress hormone).
• Encourages the formation of new mitochondria (tiny powerhouses found in every cell, including brain cells).
• Improves circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the brain, and efficiently removes metabolic waste.
• Brain plasticity (your brain’s ability to keep growing and changing throughout your lifetime) can be improved by having as little as a 30mins exercise session.

No matter what age you are, one of the best things you can do to improve mental agility, focus, and concentration, is by focusing on your brain health. By integrating brain exercises into your daily routine, you will get to sharpen your cognitive skills, challenge your mind, and possibly learn something new and enriching.

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