Best Brain-Training Exercises to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Brain training exercises

There’s a popular myth that we only use 10% of our brains. And that if we could unlock the remaining 90%, we’d be capable of incredible things.

But this isn’t true.

Not only are we already capable of amazing mental feats—we don’t just use a small percentage of our brains— we use it all. Just not at the same time.

Different areas of the brain specialise in different things. Some tasks and functions require a lot of interaction between the various regions and cortices, which is why we have billions upon billions of neurons in our heads, with trillions of connections between them.

Our brains have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to become the remarkable organs they are today. So if any part weren’t being used, it would have been left behind by evolution long ago.

The mental characteristics that humans have retained exist for a reason—they help us survive and thrive. Although we live in a vastly different world to our ancestors—our cognitive traits are still vital for seeing us through everyday life in present times.

And you can enhance your cognitive traits to become even sharper.

It just takes a little bit of brain training. Let’s explore.

Does brain training really work?

Just as it is with your muscles, your brain can become stronger and more efficient the more you use and challenge it.

If you want stronger arms, you need to lift weights—and if you don’t use your muscles at all—they become weaker. Well, it’s the same with the brain—just think of brain-training activities as weights for the mind.

There are lots of great brain-training apps and dedicated brain games that have been specifically designed to improve multiple cognitive abilities—but there are lots of everyday tasks and mentally stimulating activities that can give your brain a workout too.

How can you train your brain?

Training your brain is all about giving it stimulation and input.

If you test it and keep it on its toes (not that brains have toes), your mental faculties can develop further.

Memory and recall, attention span, problem-solving, mood, mental energy, learning, decision-making…each of these areas can be strengthened and enhanced through regular use.

So, what are some great ways to go about giving your brain a workout? 

Let’s take a look.

man doing a puzzle to train his brain
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What are the best brain-training exercises?

Here are nine things that you can do to keep your brain strong and healthy—no matter what your age or who you are.

Get puzzling

Puzzles are a fantastic way to keep your mind sharp. You utilise various different brain regions that have to work together to complete a task or figure out the solution to a problem.

Some excellent ones to try include:

Regularly testing your brain with these types of puzzles can protect you from signs of mental ageing, as well as ward off cognitive impairments like memory issues and dementia [4].

Learn something new

When you learn or do something that you’ve never done before, new neural pathways are created in your brain. And the more you do these things—the stronger these connections become.

Think about when you learned to ride a bike. At first, you struggled to do it at all. Then you began to get the hang of it, as long as you were concentrating hard. 

Next you became more proficient and had to think about what you were doing less and less. Until eventually you gained the ability to do it without even thinking about it.

This is because your brain adapts and cements connections that it believes are useful—leading to enhanced cognitive functions, such as improved memory [5].

So try picking up a new skill, learning a new language [6,7], or playing an instrument [8] to get those cogs turning and your mind whirring.

Read

Reading is almost a superpower. Not only can it keep you entertained and help you learn new things—it’s also a real brain booster [9].

It’s relaxing. It requires concentration, which strengthens your attention span. It develops your memory, vocabulary, and general knowledge. And it also requires creative thinking (particularly if you read a mystery novel or something challenging), which sharpens up your problem-solving and pattern-detection abilities.

So never feel guilty about taking some time for yourself to slow down and focus on a good book.

Get out of your comfort zone

Putting yourself in new situations and exposing yourself to novel stimuli means your brain has to work that little bit harder as it takes in and processes information, engages the senses [10]—and determines what to do next.

That’s why it’s important to challenge yourself from time to time—so that your brain gets a workout and extra stimulation.

It doesn’t have to be anything major (and certainly not dangerous). Even something as simple as taking a different route to a place you go to often (such as work or school) will make your brain sit up and pay attention.

London taxi drivers are living proof of this being good for cognitive functioning, as they have shown incredible growth and changes in the brain when they learn and then recall routes around the city [11].

woman painting picture
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Get creative

Creativity is crucial. Doing something creative builds new connections in the brain, helps you manage your emotions, and can even slow down the onset of dementia [12].

Lots of hobbies and pastimes can keep your brain active and get the creative juices flowing, like…

  • Playing games (e.g. cards, chess, brain-training games)
  • Painting, drawing, or sculpting
  • Writing
  • Cooking and baking
  • Gardening
  • Crafting (e.g. knitting, origami, woodworking)

Take some time each week to really focus on an activity that takes you out of your normal routine and challenges your mind. 

SmartFact: Taking part in creative activities can help slow cognitive decline [13] and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease [14].

Meditate

Meditation [15] has multiple benefits for your brain, as well as your body.

It calms you down, relaxes your muscles, and reduces anxiety and stress. Meditation also slows down the rate of ageing in the brain and enhances your information-processing abilities.

Find a few minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. That’s all you need to get started with, and you can build up the time gradually once you become used to the process.

You could even combine your meditation sessions with some mindfulness exercises [16]

Repeating mantras [17] or positive affirmations can enhance mental health, promote healthy thoughts and brain patterns, and help you visualise [18] and organise your thoughts so you make better decisions.

Exercise

Physical activity isn’t just beneficial for your body—getting your body pumping also keeps your mind healthy [19].

Memory, cognition, motor skills, coordination, attention, planning—all of these mental processes are required to keep your body moving and your muscles working.

You just need to get active, whether that be cardiovascular exercise [20], weight training, sports, or even just dancing or walking regularly. It all adds up.

Likewise, slower or more controlled movements like yoga and tai chi [21,22] can actually restructure and shape your brain for the better. They can also enhance your memory and focus, reduce stress, and improve the quality of your sleep.

Whatever your preference is for exercising, make sure to do so regularly. You’ll release endorphins, improve your mood, and get the blood pumping around your body as well as flowing through your brain.

exercise class
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Socialise

Humans are an incredibly social species, so regularly interacting with other people is vital for our mental health.

It’s also crucial for cognition, as talking to others engages multiple regions of the brain and protects against cognitive decline and diseases like dementia [23].

Whether you’re participating in social activities, playing games, or simply chatting, you’ll be improving your mood, concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills [24].

SmartTip: Travel! It broadens the mind, after all. You open yourself up to new experiences, meet new people, and discover alternate viewpoints and ways of looking at the world. All of which are great for keeping your brain active, engaged, and in the learning zone.

Sleep

Finally, after all of these activities and mental exercises you’ve been doing to train your brain, you’ll need some rest.

Enter sandman.

It might not be a typical cognitive game or workout—but sleep is just as important for brain health as anything you do in your waking life.

Sleep is where the magic happens. It’s where your brain consolidates memories and cements what you’ve learned throughout the day. 

Sleeping also reduces mental fatigue and ensures your brain isn’t overworked and frazzled from too much input and stress [25].

Between seven and nine hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep each night should be a priority. If you don’t get enough sleep, there can be serious ramifications for your mental health, energy levels, and cognitive performance during the short and long term [26].

Keep Training Your Brain

The bottom line when it comes to better brain health and improved brain function is simple: use it!

It’s important that you remain mentally active to ward off age-related mental decline and protect yourself against medical issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

Boosting your cognitive skills, like working memory recall and creative thinking skills, through brain exercises and brain games is a great way to take care of your mental health as well as your cognitive abilities. But there are other things you can do to improve your mental agility and reduce age-related decline.

What else can you do to keep your brain healthy?

Along with all of the brain-training exercises and tips mentioned above, something else that can ensure your brain stays fit and healthy is nootropics.

Nootropics are supplements that contain ingredients for enhancing cognitive function and mental sharpness.

There are capsules, gummies, beverages, and all manner of different ways to take nootropic supplements.

Different nootropics also have various specialties and purposes, depending on what ingredients they contain.

There are also nootropics for memory, creativity, anxiety, and many other aspects of mental fitness and cognitive health.

What are the best nootropics for your brain?

Just as the brain needs stimulation, it also needs fuel—like any other part of the body does. Whereas protein fuels your muscles, nootropics fuel your mind.

The type of nootropics that you choose will entirely depend on what you want to achieve.

SmartTip: If you aren’t sure what your goals are, take our super-fast Smart Quiz to find out which supplements could work best for you.

If you find your mind is always whirring and you want to slow down and gain some cognitive clarity—you’d benefit most from the three relaxing supplements in The Calm Kit.

Alternatively, if it’s sharper concentration and enhanced mental performance that you’re after, then The Focus Kit would be ideal.

There are lots of other ways to elevate your mind with nootropics, too, whether it’s clearing brain fog, gaining extra mental energy, reducing stress, or simply enhancing the health of your brain.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174231/

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https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-and-mindfulness-what-you-need-to-know

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https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6091269/

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