8 Daily Exercises to Enhance Your Memory and Keep Your Brain Young
Don’t be deterred by the word “exercise.” While there are numerous ways physical exercise enhances brain function, incorporating a variety of fun and pleasurable cognitive-boosting practices can be just as impactful.
According to the CDC, 47% of nursing home residents are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive dysfunction, or memory loss, with an expected 14% increase of Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the United States by 2025.
Folding brain-stimulating practices into your daily lifestyle can help prevent you from becoming a statistic. Most importantly, they can get you in the habit of enjoying your life at any age.
Let’s take a look at what a few of our nation’s psychologists and neurotherapists suggest to keep your brain young and your memory sharp.
The 8 Daily Habits That Can Boost Your Brain Power
1. Set Goals
Having goals to work toward with passion gives us a reason to wake up in the morning. When pauses in productivity occur, such as a job loss, illness, or retirement, direction and purpose suffer, leading to reduced brain activity and a lack of motivation.
Seeing many seniors in her private practice, Dr. Jodi Deluca, LCP, of Erie Colorado Counseling, comments, “As we grow older, our quality of life becomes increasingly important. Goal achievement adds to a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment — adding to the overall quality of life.”
Experts agree. A UK government-supported study of 475 people living with early-stage dementia found subjects functioned better after goal-oriented cognitive rehab when compared to the control group, allowing them to live independently at home. Start by committing to one achievable goal for one week as you build confidence in your ability to meet these goals.
2. Get Moving
Any form of physical movement provides wonderful effects on brain health. Dr. Catherin Jackson, licensed psychologist and certified neurotherapist at Optimal Neuroholistic Services, states, “Physical exercise increases oxygen to the brain, allowing us to think clearer, reduce mental stress, increase brain cells by paving new neural pathways, and boost mood with the production of feel-good neurochemicals — such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.”
You don’t need exhaustive exercise to experience benefits. Gentle movements incorporated in 15 minutes of tai chi, yoga, or even simple walking is enough to relax your brain and enhance its functionality.
3. Play Games
Fun is required to keep the brain young! As we age, areas of the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease, including the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum, are at risk of experiencing deterioration.
According to a 2018 study published in Medical Science Monitor Basic Research, brain training games positively impacted attention and memory. In the study, 51 healthy subjects participated in training games like Lumosity to target and measure brain functions such as attention, processing speed, and visual memory.
After three weeks of practicing 15 minutes daily, subjects had significant improvement in pattern recognition memory and apolipoprotein E (APOE) levels — a test often used to determine susceptibility to Alzheimer’s. Lumosity isn’t the only game for improving brain health. Sudoku, chess, crosswords, and picture puzzles can produce similar effects. Choose your favorite and have fun!
4. Learn a New Skill
Along with challenging your brain with games, taking on the challenge of learning a new skill can also boost your cognitive health. Trying new things stimulates your brain, which has been shown to improve cognition by increasing gray matter, one study found. Gray matter is involved in several essential processes in the brain, including memory, emotions, self-control, and decision-making.
Whether you learn a new language, learn how to paint, or sign up for music lessons, enticing your brain to learn new things forces it out of its comfort zone. These new skills promote healthy aging by preserving brain structures vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases.
5. Enjoy Your Favorite Music
While claims that listening to classical music makes you smarter may have been debunked, there is a proven link between music and cognition. When we listen to music we enjoy, many feel their spirit is lifted. What’s happening on a physiological plane is that our levels of dopamine and neural connectivity are increasing.
A study published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease found that 17 subjects with a clinical Alzheimer’s diagnosis showed significant improvement in brain synchronization and connectivity by listening to their preferred music. Music is certainly one memory-enhancing exercise that most would find enjoyable — and, perhaps, motivating enough to embark upon additional brain exercises.
6. Retrain Your Brain With Positivity
According to Dr. Deluca, a positive mindset is one of the best deterrents to dwindling brainpower. She states, “What we believe about ourselves is a cognitive-emotional belief, and ultimately changes the way our brain and body communicate with each other.”
Dr. Catherine Jackson attempts to transform negative self-beliefs in her practice by retraining the brain. “The more you stimulate your brain, the more the brain creates new connections and pathways — generating new brain cells,” claims Jackson.
This process of paving a way to new brain cells is called neuroplasticity. According to a published review in Neurotoxicology, neuroplasticity may offer hope in future treatments of cognitive disorders related to aging and Alzheimer’s. “When neuroplasticity is increased,” Jackson continues, “it results in more effective executive functioning, better brain processing speeds, and improved memory.”
Carving out just 15 minutes for daily meditation may be enough to improve your brain health. A 2018 publication in Reviews in the Neurosciences found mindful meditation practices reduced cognitive decline and perceived stress, increased quality of life, heightened brain connectivity, and boosted cerebral blood flow to the cortex area of the brain.
Other peer-reviewed research found the amygdala to be affected by regular meditation. This essential structure is in charge of our fight and flight controls; larger amygdalas are linked to increased anxiety and depression. Research has found that the amygdala shrinks in response to daily meditation practice, resulting in healthy emotional regulation, reduced fear, and lowered anxiety.
8. Get Quality Sleep
Less of an exercise and more of a common healthy practice, quality sleep has been widely understood to benefit our brains. Research has linked sleep deprivation to numerous varieties of cognitive degradation. When the brain doesn’t get a chance to shut down and rest, we risk missing out on the deep slow-wave sleep our body needs for repair and recovery. When challenging the brain with new activities that require learning and growing, rest is essential.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much time out of your day to improve your memory, mood, and cognition by implementing one or more of these daily habits. The best part is you can start experiencing benefits at any age.
Begin today by setting goals and stimulating your body and brain through new hobbies, games, and music — grooving new neural pathways and connections that will help you and your brain feel younger. Consider seeking appropriate professionals as needed to help empower you with daily accountability.
Remember that resting your brain with daily meditation and adequate sleep is just as important — if not more so — as stimulating your brain with activity. Start small now.
Al-Thaqib A, Al-Sultan F, Al-Zahrani A, et al. Brain Training Games Enhance Cognitive Function in Healthy Subjects. Med Sci Monit Basic Res. 2018;24:63-69. Published 2018 Apr 20. doi:10.12659/msmbr.909022
Killgore WD. Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Prog Brain Res. 2010;185:105-129. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00007-5
King JB, Jones KG, Goldberg E, et al. Increased Functional Connectivity After Listening to Favored Music in Adults With Alzheimer Dementia. J Prev Alzheimers Dis. 2019;6(1):56-62. doi:10.14283/jpad.2018.19
Russell-Williams J, Jaroudi W, Perich T, Hoscheidt S, El Haj M, Moustafa AA. Mindfulness and meditation: treating cognitive impairment and reducing stress in dementia. Rev Neurosci. 2018;29(7):791-804. doi:10.1515/revneuro-2017-0066
Schultz SA, Larson J, Oh J, et al. Participation in cognitively-stimulating activities is associated with brain structure and cognitive function in preclinical Alzheimer's disease. Brain Imaging Behav. 2015;9(4):729-736. doi:10.1007/s11682-014-9329-5
Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ. Dispositional mindfulness co-varies with smaller amygdala and caudate volumes in community adults. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e64574. Published 2013 May 22. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064574
Walsh TJ, Opello KD. Neuroplasticity, the aging brain, and Alzheimer's disease. Neurotoxicology. 1992;13(1):101-110. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1508410/