The aging brain impacts us more than we might imagine — personally and professionally. As our bodies age, so do our minds. We move and speak slowly, and begin to experience loss of memory. This is because our brain activity is beginning to decline.
Try not to freak out about growing old just yet. Studies have shown that brain activity actually doesn’t need to decline with age if you remain physically and mentally active. Remaining a perpetual student of life, from writing to learning how to ride a bicycle, does indeed help protect our brains from aging.
What are fun, out of the box ideas for stimulating brains before they start to age? Here are some of the best physical and mental exercises anyone can do to benefit brain activity.
1. Learning a new language.
As a Principal at BRAND PARTNERS | NYC, Melis Steiner travels frequently for work. Rather than use a translator, she prefers interacting directly with local people and takes a few months to learn a new language at a time.
“It helps wake up parts of my brain that I probably don’t use quite as often,” Steiner notes.
Steiner uses Pimsleur, a self-instruction language tool, to help her learn languages. She has found that taking these lessons has allowed her to improve her overall performance and sharpen her mental recall.
“It’s a great exercise for the brain to do things that it doesn’t always do.” Steiner says, comparing it to the effectiveness of a cheat day in a diet routine. “When you mix it up, you test your brain and expand its capabilities. The chances are that the more something frustrates you to learn, the more you should probably learn it and enjoy the process of flexing your brain muscle.”
2. Making a habit out of consuming “brainfood.”
What is “brainfood?” Sue Khim, CEO of STEM learning app and website Brilliant, defines brainfood as a means of staying connected to the world and educated on a variety of topics that add to the brain’s knowledge. Non-working hours (AKA free time) are used to nourish the brain and create a productivity push.
It won’t come as a shock that marathoning The Bachelor doesn’t count as brainfood. Khim’s current brainfood ranges from reading three books a month to practicing physics problems after dinner.
She tries to make brainfood consumption a daily habit, but it’s more than just wanting to stimulate brain activity. Curiosity brings her joy that traditional ‘unwinding’ activities, like Instagram scrolling, cannot.
“Mentally intensive activities are actually the best way for me to unplug. It has to be something that’s hard enough that I can’t do anything else at the same time.”
3. Training in martial arts.
Charn Pennewaert is 49-years-old, a mother of four, and working professional. She’s the Executive Client Director at Oakleaf Technologies, a division of Oakleaf Partner Holdings, and also trains in Aikido each day. Aikido is a modern Japanese art that helps Pennewaert better maintain work-life balance.
“Daily training helps me empty my mind, develop my focus, and stay centered and grounded.” Pennewaert says. She enjoys martial arts so much that she is also a Sandan and Fukushidoin, and has been an assistant teacher for the past 18 years.
What else does Pennewaert count on to keep her brain activity sharp? Meditation. Not only does she practice meditation, but she instills one of its greatest lessons — conscious breathing — in her regimen and in her teachings for kids classes four times a week.
4. Taking time to rest.
Sometimes, when our brains must complete a task that requires a great amount of cognitive demand, it may turn out to be more difficult than anticipated even with total concentration. Nobody understands this better than Joy Kinney MSR CCC-SLP, a Speech Language Pathologist at Carolina Speech and Hearing.
Kinney specializes in neurological changes that occur across the lifespan, and has discovered that when something is too hard to complete it’s perfectly fine to take a rest break. By taking a few minutes to yourself, you are able to restart your brain and strategize again on the task at hand. It should be a little easier to complete once you have stepped away for a few minutes.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation and Deborah at @deborahsweeney.