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Having an agile mind and a strong memory are critical for making the most of your life. A strong memory is dependent on the health and vitality of your brain, so anything you can do to improve your mental health is a good idea.
Whether you’re a student studying for a big exam, a busy professional trying to enhance your work performance, or a senior looking to preserve your brainpower — there are several things you can try to improve your memory and cognition.
The Key Elements of a Brain-Strengthening Activity
When you think about brain-boosting activities, games like chess and sudoku probably come to mind. Planting a garden probably wouldn’t be something you think of at all. However, while learning chess for the first time will definitely improve brain function, continuing to play it long after you’ve mastered the game might not be as beneficial.
That’s because there are four key elements involved in any activity that seriously promotes brain development:
- Learning something new. Regardless of how mentally demanding an activity is, if you’re already good at it, it’s simply not a good brain exercise. That’s why continuing to play an advanced game, like chess, is only effective if you’re new to the game. To strengthen the brain, it has to be challenged with new skills outside its comfort zone.
- Challenging your thinking. To be very effective at boosting cognition, activities need to demand your entire attention. It must require focus and mental effort to do.
- Building on existing skills. The best brain-boosters allow you to start anywhere and gradually work up to more and more difficult levels. Once a current level of expertise starts to feel easy, you’ve got to tackle the next level to continue benefiting your brain.
- Rewarding performance. Self-discipline will only get you so far. Instead, brain-boosting activities should have rewards built-in to make the process engaging. The mind responds best to challenges that have some form of reward on the other side of mastery.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some unexpected activities you can try for boosting brainpower.
Taking Up Gardening
You probably know that gardening is a popular activity. After all, the average lawn and garden spend per household was $503 in 2017. However, gardening may be the last thing that comes to mind when you think of brain-boosting activities.
Although most people wouldn’t know it, gardening comes with a wide range of benefits to your mental health. As a treatment intervention method, horticulture has been used for a very long time. It’s almost instinctive for people to assume that close proximity with the earth and growing things leads to improved wellbeing, physically as well as emotionally. But in the 1940s and 50s, it became a more common practice. Since then, gardening has been recommended as a form of therapy for war veterans and people with specific illnesses and disabilities.
Many professionals employ horticulture therapy techniques to help their patients learn new skills and regain ones they had lost, leading to improvements in memory, language, cognition, and socialization. There are even specially-designed therapeutic gardens made to assist with sensory-orientation.
You may not suffer from trauma or disease, but the rejuvenating properties of gardening may still do wonders for your sense of wellbeing. People today deal with an incredible amount of stimulation and stress on a daily basis, making the calming, predictable nature of tending a garden a welcome shift.
In addition to offering therapeutic, stress-relieving benefits, it is now thought that gardening may provide more practical benefits to cognition. In 2019, a study was conducted to uncover the effects of gardening upon the levels of brain nerve growth factors. These factors are thought to be associated with cognition and memory, meaning that an increase in these levels could mean a boost in brainpower. Through the experiment, 41 individuals aged around 76 on average were tested before and after treatment. The treatment involved low- to moderate-intensity physical activity for 20 minutes, pulling weeds, digging, transplanting, and more. After the experiment, concentrations of two out of three nerve growth factors had increased. This was a significant discovery that seems to add support to the idea that gardening is an effective brain-boosting activity.
Learning a Second Language
Finding anyone who knows how to speak more than one language is unusual. It’s so unusual, in fact, that only 17% of people in America speak a second language. But if more people knew how much learning a new language could impact your brain for the better, it might not be so uncommon.
Your brain gets countless benefits when you learn a new language. People who understand and speak more than one language enjoy an improved memory; more effective critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; enhanced abilities of concentration; better listening skills; and an increased ability to multitask. Bilingual and multilingual people can switch back and forth between tasks quickly, and they’re better at monitoring changes in their environment. As if all that wasn’t enough, they also display signs of having greater flexibility and creativity. Finally, knowing more than one language helps to keep cognitive decline at bay as you age.
Knowing a second language can also lead to improved decision-making abilities. When you compare options while thinking or speaking in a language other than your mother tongue, your mind avoids the emotional connection you have to certain words and concepts, making it easier to draw objective, intelligent conclusions.
Laugh a Lot
We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but it may also be the best way to a happy, healthy brain!
While most emotional responses only affect certain parts of the brain, laughter causes multiple regions across the brain to be engaged. It’s almost like a full-body workout for your brain. Besides that, listening to jokes and making sense of punch lines triggers areas of the brain that are involved in learning and creativity.
To bring more laughter into your life, start by paying attention to laughter around you. When someone else finds something funny, they’re usually eager to share it with someone else, because it makes them the star of the show for a moment. Gravitate towards laughter and find out what’s so funny!
As you can see, boosting your brain power and improving your memory doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be as simple as cultivating a backyard flower patch or even visiting a comedy club. As a bonus, you just might gain a new appreciation for life.