Challenging boost your brainpower is like challenging your body with physical activity—a long-term lack of muscle movement can lead to muscle degeneration, and your brain is no different. If you’re going to stay sharp, your brain needs to be continually exposed to difficult and stimulating new tasks in order to maintain and rewire neural connections. Here are eight fun ideas that will help to boost your brainpower.
1. Use your opposite hand
Muscle movement is connected to the brain, so it’s no surprise that stimulating your hands also stimulates your brain. Studies show that only one hemisphere becomes active when a dominant hand is used—however, the use of the non-dominant hand can activate both hemispheres and allow you to take advantage of your brain’s plasticity. Try holding utensils, opening doors, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand!
2. Do brain teasers and logic puzzles
Puzzles and games that engage the brain help maintain cognitive function, particularly among older populations. At the same time, people of all ages can benefit from a good brain teaser that challenges problem-solving and decision-making skills. In addition to working through riddles and Sudoku challenges, trying to access puzzles through apps and interactive websites.
3. Learn an instrument
Neuropsychologist Dr. Carl Hale states that “there is research that musicians who use both hands have about a 9% increase in the size of their corpus callosum [the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres], so certainly using both hands creates more transfer.” This evidence suggests that intelligence can be promoted by playing an instrument. Given the convenience and accessibility of online websites and videos, you can certainly teach yourself to play something new!
4. Learn a new language
Like learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new language will also strengthen your brain and its connections. Your brain’s flexibility and learning capabilities will be enhanced, and both grey and white matter will increase. Grey matter is neural tissue involved with memory, emotions, muscle control, and sensory processing, while white matter synthesizes connections between areas of grey matter.
5. Eat foods that are high in antioxidants
Oxidation is an imbalance caused by your body’s inability to combat free radicals at the rate they’re created. Bioscientist Jayatri Das describes this imbalance as a naturally occurring process that is caused by normal metabolic processes in the body. However, despite its organic nature, oxidation can lead to damaged cells—and brain cells are more likely to suffer from damage due to high neural activity. Antioxidants serve as combatants that help reduce oxidation and protect the brain. Foods that are rich in these powerful antioxidants include berries, coffee, nuts, oily fish, and leafy greens.
While foods can supplement your need for antioxidants, it’s also important to note that some foods introduce higher levels of free radicals to your body, such as processed meats and alcohol. Similarly, there are substances that hinder your brain’s health. Acetylcholine is an important chemical involved in memory, and many medications (such as muscle relaxants and painkillers) can block its activity. Be conscious of what you put into your body, and treat yourself well.
In a society that is progressively becoming more individualistic and technology-dependent, it’s easy to fall into the habit of living too self-sufficiently. AARP cites a study that associates the maintenance of social connections with reduced risks of dementia and cognitive impairment among older women. Some researchers believe that socialization and loneliness are associated with memory loss, while others believe they are linked to the brain’s aging process. Regardless of the biological mechanisms, healthy social life is undeniably a proponent of brain health. Combine a challenge with socialization—playing chess or solving a jigsaw puzzle with someone will double your benefits!
7. Engage all your senses
Neurobiologist Dr. Lawrence Katz recommends incorporating as many senses as possible into routine activities because a significant portion of your brain works on processing sensory input. Try closing your eyes when taking a shower or eating!
Not only is exercise a great way of releasing stress, but it also promotes neural connectivity and growth. Furthermore, physical activity can incorporate many of the aforementioned ideas, including socializing, using your non-dominant hand, and involving your five senses.