However, there is a big difference between the brain and other muscles. While most muscles grow stronger by repeating the same exercises, the brain must learn new skills and form new neural connections to grow.
That’s why learning a new skill can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 70 percent, according to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Organization.
What are brain aerobics?
“Brain aerobics” are activities designed to stretch your brain in a new way. To qualify, an activity must keep you engaged using more than one of your senses and break an established routine.
So if you always read the same magazines, websites, or style of novel, you’re not giving your brain as much exercise as you could. Consider the following “brain aerobics” activities for a change of pace to exercise your mental muscles.
Brain Aerobics to Help Pump Up Your Grey Matter
Read Something New
Reading can be great exercise for the brain if you aren’t a regular reading, or if you choose something outside your usual genre. If you typically like historical novels, read a biography of a historical figure, instead. If you lean toward non-fiction, consider a book that delves into a new area of study or can help you learn a new skill.
Learn a New Language
Computer software like Rosetta Stone makes learning a new language fun. It instructs individuals of any age in the same way young children learn their native language, by listening and watching and, later, reading. Connect with your local library or, if you’re in a senior living residence, inquire about programs to learn a new language or any other skill you might want to study.
Study (or Play) a Musical Instrument
Unlike many other mental activities, learning a musical instrument requires the use of multiple parts of your brain at the same time.
And here’s where it gets really interesting: Even if you already know how to play the instrument, making music is like a “full-body workout” for the brain.
Take a Dance Class
From line-dancing to Zumba, learning new moves in a dance class gives your brain a workout while you exercise your body. You’ll improve your fitness and your mental agility as you commit the moves to memory and work to get your arms and feet performing them in the right sequence.
What about “Brain Game” Apps?
Although the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) recently charged Lumosity and other developers of so-called “brain-training games” with false advertising claims and Lumosity settled for $2 million, researchers say the jury is still out on the benefits of these games.
But at least one study shows playing the games offers more benefit than doing nothing at all.
“The lack of evidence is not the same as evidence of a lack of efficacy,” says Dr. Joel Kramer, head of neuropsychology at University of California –San Francisco Memory and Aging Center. “There’s still the possibility that Lumosity or other kinds of brain training or cognitive enhancement approaches will have some efficacy.”
Exercise Your Body to Exercise Your Brain
Researchers emphasize that sitting in front of a computer playing games should not replace physical activity, as regular exercise is shown as an effective way to stave off memory loss and the effects of Alzheimer’s.
In fact, it’s possible the best “brain aerobics” are actually just plain “aerobic” activity to exercise your body and your mind.