Ever have one of those “I don’t think I’m as smart as I used to be” moments? I’m not just talking “mom brain,” either. I mean that feeling like you’re just not living up to your mental potential. I’ve felt like that a lot lately. Lack of focus, antsy, unmotivated…and just plain not my typically fairly brainy self. So, what can we do? Check out the tips below to increase your mental fitness.
How to Increase Your Mental Fitness
Did you know that our brains actually change structure and physiology in response to a myriad of different things? For example, chronic stress can fundamentally alter the connections within your brain. I don’t even want to see what stress has done to my brain. Chronic doesn’t even begin to describe the amount of anxiety I feel on an average day.
On the flip side, though, it can also change for the better in response to new information and stimuli. To give your mind this kind of food for growth, try some of the suggestions below.
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1. Play mental games.
Crosswords, brain teasers, mazes, Sudoku, and other puzzles are all effective ways to challenge your mind. Here’s the caveat, though: while they’re great even for experienced puzzlers, you’ll actually reap more benefits from playing a new-to-you type of game. So, if you’re constantly playing those match 3 games (seriously, why is every freaking puzzle app a match 3???), try switching it up a bit.
Check out a few of my favorite free puzzle apps (Amazon links so you can download on your Kindle Fire, or just search the App store for them for iPads & iPhones).
2. Exercise regularly
Something that I know I don’t do often enough but really should, exercise helps your brain in so many ways. For example:
- The brain is forced to send stronger impulses to your muscles when moving vigorously or against resistance.
- The coordination required and the use of muscles not normally used both challenge the brain.
- The flow of blood and nutrients through the brain is increased.
You don’t have to go all crazy with the cardio! I have back problems, so a lot of exercises are difficult for me. I like to walk, but the hills in my neighborhood are too much. However, I recently figured out that 17 trips around my backyard equals just about a mile (it’s just about the size of a football field). So, I go outside and walk the perimeter a few dozen times a day! I can do it in my pajamas without worrying about getting too tired to finish the trip home. 😀
3. Play music
If, like me, you’re not even remotely musically inclined, skip down to #4. On the other hand, if you even have a vague interest in learning how to play an instrument, keep reading.
Learning a new musical instrument is a great way to challenge your mental fitness. This is particularly true for someone who has never played a musical instrument. Learning musical theory is like learning a new language. Not only is music an enjoyable way to spend free time, but it’s also great for your brain. Now might be the perfect time to pull out the phone book and look into piano or violin lessons.
4. Listen to music
Can’t carry a tune or play a note to save your life? Don’t feel bad. I tried playing the flute once and could barely make it go “hooo, hooo.” It stinks because most of my family is very musical. My mom and all her siblings were in drum corps for most of their lives.
Don’t worry, though, listening to music has a ton of health benefits, too! From lowering your stress to boosting your immune system, passively listening is almost as good as actively playing. Even better news for us punk rock girls and boys- you don’t have to just listen to classical. As long as it’s something you enjoy, you’ll reap the rewards.
5. Meditate daily
Meditation challenges your brain by creating a new mental state. It’s relaxing, plus it teaches your mind the ability to focus, which is a huge task for many of us. For those, like me, who can’t shut down their brains long enough to achieve Zen, try alternative forms of meditating. Basically, anything that lets you sort of shut down your brain and just “be” is beneficial. Adult coloring books, for example, are great stress busters! You can also try yoga or taking a nature walk.
6. Learn something new every day
From an early age I made a rule for myself to learn something new every single day. whether it’s a tiny piece of trivia (a group of crows is called a murder) or researching the entire line of the English monarchy from Alfred to Elizabeth! Now, I couldn’t possibly recite all the kings and queens, but it’s not about memorization, it’s about being open to learning.
Try to choose something fun to learn that has nothing to do with your job. The goal is to expand your overall knowledge and not just in one specific topic. For example, if I learn something new about using Pinterest for blogging, it doesn’t count towards my daily goal. Sure, it may be new information but I feel like my brain just tosses it in the “blogging tips” file and closes the drawer. When I learn something vastly different and new, I picture my brain making a whole new file and, ergo, new connections.
7. Take a walk down memory lane
Every night before bed, I choose a random memory (whatever comes to mind) and follow the path to other memories. Since one of my “learn something new every day” lessons had to do with how the brain stores memory, I know that memory depends on connections to other memories (or, in some cases, things like music and aromas). I’ve “discovered” some pretty great memories from my childhood. While there are a few I’d rather forget, I find that taking this trip down memory lane helps me bring the happier memories to the forefront.
8. Read more, watch less
If you’re sticking to the “learn something new everyday” rule, then you’re already reading at least once a day. Take it a step farther by actively deciding that you will read more and watch less (as in less TV, fewer movies, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I love TV almost as much as I love reading, and some days when my brain just hurts, I’d rather binge through a Netflix show than read a book. Still, I set a goal and try to read at least a few pages each day.
Like your muscles, your brain needs regular use to stay healthy and fit! The key is to expose yourself to new and challenging experiences on a regular basis. So break up your routine and try something new!.
Last update on 2020-10-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API