Every day, you exercise your body – whether it’s by squeezing in a gym workout, chasing after your kids, or simply moving from Errand A to Errand B. But how fit are you keeping your mind? Just like your muscles, your brain needs constant exercise to stay healthy and happy.
Here are some simple (and fun!) ways to do the trick:
1. Resist the Lazy Route
We all use our brains every day, but let’s be honest. Sometimes we take the easy way out! We let the GPS tell us where to drive, and our phones have become our all-knowing command stations. Case in point: When was the last time you dialed someone’s number by memory, instead of just tapping a name in your contact list? Luckily, there are small things you can do each day to exercise some of your underworked brain muscles. Using your head for simple math – rather than reaching for a calculator – is just one example. You can also take a more fun, social approach to thinking through problems – like in the latest Escape Room craze. Put your brain to the test or be stuck there for good!
2. Practice Child-Like Curiosity
Do you ever notice how young children ask “WHY?” all the time? They are constantly absorbing new information and seeking answers to life’s greatest mysteries. Why is the sky blue? Why do people sneeze? Why do bunnies hop? This incessant curiosity might drive parents crazy, but we could all take a cue from these little learners. As an adult, be curious about the world around you. If you hear an unfamiliar word, look it up. If you see a dog breed you don’t recognize, ask what it is. If you feel disconnected from world events, start watching or reading the news online. As they say, “Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.”
3. Tame the Stress
How many times have you laid awake at night, tossing and turning, a slave to all the thoughts racing through your mind? Maybe you’re thinking about work, school, or that text you got earlier in the day that still has you stumped. Behind it all is plain, old-fashioned stress, and it can take a toll on your health – including the state of your brain. While you can’t remove stress altogether, experts agree that you can help reduce it by engaging in relaxing activities that will help protect your mind. Some of these include yoga, crafting, gardening, deep breathing, and meditation. Pick from this list, or choose your own. The idea is to slow down, create a sense of calm, and reduce stress levels in the process.
4. Reconnect with Nature
Ah, the great outdoors. There’s nothing like breathing in fresh air and being surrounded by untouched greenery. While we can all speak to the calming effects of nature, most of us live in cities and spend far less time outside than our parents and grandparents did. This trend has a clear impact on our mental health. Studies show that city dwellers are more prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses than their country-living counterparts. So, what do you do if you don’t own a cottage or can’t get away to the woods every weekend? Don’t worry; even some quiet time in your own backyard will do the trick. According to National Geographic, “When we get closer to nature – be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree – we do our overstressed brains a favor.” Experiencing nature allows the brain’s prefrontal cortex to rest, and that is always a good thing.
5. Get Moving
Ever notice how good you feel leaving the gym? We could go on and on about the benefits of exercise – how it helps keep you healthy and looking great in your favorite jeans, for starters – but exercise is just as good for your mind since it increases blood flow and oxygenates your brain. Research also shows that physical exercise enhances cognitive function and helps you with focus, learning, and memory. Think of it as part of your long-term health-insurance plan. Exercise will take care of you and your mind for years to come. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every other day. If you can bump this up to every day, even better!
6. Don’t Make it Too Easy
If you’ve been working out for years, you’ve probably fallen prey to auto-pilot workouts. You know the ones. You do exactly the same warm-up and then move onto the same exercises, sets, and reps as usual. Of course, this is followed by your tried, trusted, and true cool down. If you really want to keep your body responding and your mind fresh, you need to switch things up. Do what isn’t predictable, and challenge your brain in the process. For example, if you’re used to walking on a zero-incline treadmill, take things outside to a rougher terrain that will test your balance and put different muscle groups to work.
7. Explore our Big, Beautiful World
According to recent statistics, only 46% of Americans have a valid passport.* If you don’t have this valuable piece of ID, you may be missing out on a wealth of new experiences that can enrich your mind. Travel exposes you to new people, places, and cultures that can help you break from your routine and gain a fresh perspective on worldly events. If you don’t have the time or budget to fly somewhere far, try a road trip across parts of our great nation. It will be a refreshing adventure for your mind, body, and soul!
8. Train Your Brain
Remember how your brain needs to be exercised just as your body does? You can do this with simple exercises like word searches, brain teasers, crossword puzzles, and other cognitive activities. This will help maintain and even improve the plasticity of your brain – your brain’s ability to change over the course of your lifetime. Sites like Lumosity are designed with this very purpose, with hundreds of fun brain-training games to help improve memory, attention, flexibility, processing, and problem solving. Another great approach is to always try new things. Take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or listen to new music. By using skills you don’t normally use, you can stretch your cognitive capabilities for a long, healthy life.
9. Eat Well
Craving fast food? You might want to rethink that burger and fries combo. There is an undoubtable connection between what you eat and how your brain performs. Eat too many processed foods and saturated fats, and you’ll likely feel sluggish and unfocused. You’ll also want to skip the sugar whenever possible, as a diet high in sugar can be harmful to the brain and cause strong fluctuations in blood-sugar levels. Instead, follow a meal plan that’s high in quality protein, veggies, some fruit and grains, and healthy fats. Antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries and spinach are especially helpful in supporting overall cognitive performance. For sugar-free, hi-protein nutrition on the go, try a Lean Body® Ready-to-Drink Protein Shake.
10. Have Fun
Lastly, live life with a smile! Take time away from life’s brain-taxing responsibilities to visit friends and family, cuddle a pet, or dig into a juicy novel. When you embrace the fun around you, you’ll reduce your stress levels and your mind will be clear and fit to savor life’s great moments.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.