Everyone knows that physical exercise is important for maintaining overall health, managing weight and looking and feeling great at any age. But, did you know that your brain needs exercise, too?
Most of us don’t think of our brains as an organ that needs care and attention, like we do our heart, lungs and skin. Instead, many think our brain is somehow beyond our control or influence. And, some of us don’t think about it at all until something goes wrong, like an injury or disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s occurs.
But, the reality is your brain needs just as much—if not more—exercise and attention than the rest of your body to keep it sharp, healthy and functioning at its very best throughout your lifetime. After all, it is the supreme vital organ, controlling every other bodily function. The problem is that few of us understand why brain exercise is important, and even fewer know how to properly exercise the brain. To help uncover the mystery, here are 3 reasons everyone should add brain exercise to their workout routine, and some tips on how to do it right.
3 Reasons to Exercise your Brain
1. Boosts mental capacity
Just like lifting weights enhances connective tissue in the muscles to make them stronger, challenging your brain enhances connective tissue between the neurons in your brain to help them function better and faster. This phenomenon, called neuroplasticity, is the brain’s unique way of growing and expanding its capacity. By challenging your brain with well-designed exercises, you can actually improve and retain neuroplasticity to overcome the natural decline in cognitive function that occurs with age. In fact, an NIH analysis of several cognitive training studies concluded that cognitive training confers a consistent benefit on cognitive functions that can be protective against cognitive decline. And, even exercises conducted over just 10 hours in one year showed measurable benefits 5 years later.
2. Improves memory
Challenging your brain to learn new things forces your brain to work harder, increasing memory capacity. In one fascinating 2006 study, London taxi drivers were found to have a larger hippocampus—the area responsible for forming and accessing memories—than London bus drivers. The theory: taxi drivers are