brain light bulb

At some point in your life, this phrase has most likely been thrown your way. “Use it, or lose it.” While it’s most commonly associated with your physique, it can also be related to your brain.

As you age, your brain is constantly changing. And if it isn’t challenged or actively engaged on a regular basis, the risk for diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s increases as the years go by. While going to the gym may be a priority for making sure that your body stays in shape, it’s equally important to regularly exercise your brain to keep your mind functioning at its best.

Fortunately, research has shown that your brain continues to produce neurons, or cells that transmit information, throughout your entire existence. And if you’re regularly challenging and exercising your brain, these new neural connections can help expand your brain, keeping you sharp well into your golden years.

Here is a quick rundown of some simple things you can do to exercise your brain.

Never Miss a Beat!

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Change Your Routine

Simply changing your route to work or rearranging your living room will force your brain to adjust to new surroundings. As you become older, your attention span decreases and you become more susceptible to distraction. Changing things up a bit every now and then gives your brain a wake up call and forces it to pay attention again.

Do Something New

This is where training the brain can be fun.

  • Learn to play the guitar.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Brush your teeth with your opposite hand.
  • Learn to golf.

The list can go on and on. As you acquire an ability, you’re actually creating a system in the brain that does not exist. Basically, your brain is evolving, creating new connections, neurons, and memories.

Memorize, Memorize, Memorize

Memory is involved in most areas of brain function, including:

  • Reading
  • Mental acuity
  • Reasoning

Memorizing exercises give the brain strength to retain more information and build new associations between different neural connections of the brain. In fact, researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that adults who went through memory training were better able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills, even five years after going through the training.

So start by memorizing some of your favorite song lyrics, or even a song that you don’t know or even like. Maybe even try memorizing the Gettysburg Address; it might come in handy someday.

Try the ultimate memory challenge – shower and get dressed in the total darkness. Please be careful if you actually try this, but this exercise will force your brain to adapt and create new neural pathways that ultimately will make it stronger and more resilient. Be sure not to accidentally bang your foot on anything!

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.