10 Do-At-Home Brain Exercises That Boost Memory & Mental Health

Posted on April 04 2020

10 Do-At-Home Brain Exercises That Boost Memory & Mental Health

Since we use our brains for everything we do, like any other part of our bodies, we need to care for it, too. Ever hear the old adage “use it or lose it”? This maxim also applies to brain health.

The more you exercise your brain, the better you’ll be able to remember and process information. Much in the way that traditional exercise routines reduce fat, add lean muscle, and help your body to retain that muscle as you get older, researchers believe that performing targeted, regular brain exercises and following a brain-healthy lifestyle may also boost your brain’s cognitive reserve.

However, not all brain-focused activities are created equal. The best exercises break your routine and challenge you to develop and use new brain pathways.

Keep reading to find 10 great brain exercise ideas along with examples and resources, plus find out why brain exercises can strengthen your mind and help with overall mental health.

10 Brain Do-At-Home Exercises for Optimizing Memory and Overall Mental Health

The plasticity of the brain allows it to change and adapt as you age. As you learn new things, you can strengthen and create neural networks and pathways. The result? Your brain not only grows stronger but also becomes more flexible and adaptable to change. Below are 10 exercises (including examples and FREE resources) you can do at home to boost your memory and mental health.

brain exercises yoga and meditation

1. Meditate

Meditation is a powerful tool with many health benefits. For centuries, it’s been known that engaging in regular meditation can slow your breathing, calm your body, and reduce your anxiety and stress. But did you know that meditating can physically change the body and brain and could possibly help promote healthy behaviors and improve a number of health problems! By meditating, you can boost your brain’s ability to process information, improve your focus and concentration, and fine-tune your memory.

Examples & Resources:

  • Begin by finding a comfortable place to sit uninterrupted for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. While you sit, close your eyes, be aware of your breathing, and push any wandering thoughts or voices in your head away.
  • We have organized some really quick, easy to use and try 5-Min Mini Meditations in our Calendar of free exercises for the body & mind (note the full week of sample meditations at the end of April).

2. Dance

Believe it or not, but learning new dance moves can actually increase your brain’s memory and processing speed. In other words, your brain will thank you if you bust a move on the dance floor -- regardless of how silly you might feel.

Examples & Resources:

  • If you want to test it, there are several dance activities to try. Learn ballroom dancing. Try a jazz exercise or Zumba class. Go line-dancing with your friends. Take a contemporary, hip-hop, tap, or salsa dance class.
  • Not much of a dance-in-public person? There are tons of online dance classes and exercises you can find now. We’ve got some fun, free-to-use, dance ones (exercise worthy too) that you can find in the same calendar of free exercises mentioned above.
brain exercises puzzles

3. Try a Puzzle

Whether you’re putting together a 100-piece Mickey Mouse puzzle with your kids or navigating your way through a 2,000-piece image of the Statue of Liberty, tackling a jigsaw puzzle is a fantastic way to exercise the brain. Working on a puzzle uses different cognitive functions and protects the brain for visuospatial cognitive aging. In other words, when you do a puzzle, you are essentially looking at various pieces and figuring out where they belong within the larger image. This is an excellent way to strengthen and challenge your brain.

Examples & Resources:

  • Can’t get out to buy one, here’s some you can do online on your computer with movable puzzle pieces and a Puzzle a Day (free too) from TheJigsawPuzzles.com

4. Learn a New Language

Numerous studies have shown that being able to speak multiple languages can contribute to higher levels of creativity, improved visual-spatial skills, and better memory. Bilingualism may also help delay the onset of mental decline due to aging and help you to be better able to switch more easily between tasks. If you think you’re too old to become fluent in a second language, think again. It’s never too late! Researchers maintain that people of all ages can strengthen their mental functions and boost their memories at any point during their lives.

Examples & Resources:

  • Many of our friends have recommended taking a look at one of the leading language APPs, Babbel. Right now, they are offering a free trial. And, if you’ve got a student at-home, they are offering all K-12 and college students free access to its app until the end of the term (mid June 2020).

5. Play Cards

How long has it been since you last played a card game? According to experts, the best mentally stimulating exercises and activities for adults, a quick game of cards can increase brain volume in several different regions. It may also improve your thinking skills and memory. Plus, let’s face it: You have fun!

Examples & Resources:

  • Some of the best tried-and-true card games include crazy eights, hearts, and poker as well as gin rummy and bridge. If you don’t have a partner to play with, a game of solitaire can also boost your brain just as well!
  • This free Playing Cards game website has checkers, crazy eights, and the perennial party favorite, Cards Against Humanity. All the card movements are synced on everyone’s screens, and there’s even an option to play a custom card game with a virtual 52 count deck.

6. Learn a New Skill

Learning to do something new is not just interesting and fun, but it might also help to increase the strength of the connections within the brain and help improve memory in aging adults. Is there something you want to know how to do but haven’t gotten around to it yet? Perhaps you’d like to learn how to cook, sew a piece of clothing, use a particular computer program, or how to fix your car. Now you have one more reason to learn that skill -- to keep your brain healthy and strong.

Examples & Resources:

  • Cooking & Recipes: We love the Tasty YouTube Channel. It has some great video resources for learning how-to-cook and recipe ideas... and free.

7. Teach a Skill

If you’ve just learned a new skill, teaching it to another person is a great way to practice it. Teaching requires you to explain the concept in simple terms and correct yourself if you’ve made mistakes. For instance, learn to swing a golf club, bake a cake, or play a song on the piano -- then go through the motion or activity step-by-step with a friend. Beyond improving your ability to learn the material, teaching others can also result in other benefits such as improved leadership ability, increased confidence, and improved communication skills.

Examples & Resources:

  • Start a Virtual Skills Class: People are using Zoom (and for free) to create online classes to share with friends, family or wider audiences. They have a quick starter kit to help you learn Zoom in 10 Minutes or less.
brain exercises music

8. Play or Listen to Music

Looking for a simple way to boost your brain’s creative power? The answer might lie in music. Cranking up some happy tunes can produce better mental results than sitting in complete silence. In other words, listening to feel-good music can help supercharge your brain power and creative-thinking abilities. And, if you’re looking to learn how to play an instrument, there’s never a better time to start than now. In fact, your brain can learn something new at any time, at any age! So, give the guitar, piano, or even drums a shot -- there’s nothing to lose (except perhaps your neighbors’ sanity)!

Examples & Resources:

  • YouTube offers tons of “Learn How to Play” this or that instrument. But do be cautious, there are some great starter classes but there are also ones that could teach you some bad habits and make it difficult for you to further your abilities.
  • Some of the greatest live musicians are at-home right now and sharing their music online. You can listen to so many of them live (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube...) and feel like you are getting a concert for free!

9. Try Tai Chi

Similar to meditation, it’s no secret that there are many health benefits associated with tai chi, including those pertaining to mental health. Plus, you can rely on tai chi to center yourself when life seems to spin out of control. Engaging in daily tai chi exercises can help improve memory, enhance sleep quality, and reduce stress. In addition, tai chi can boost executive function, including the ability to make decisions, manage time, and multitask. While beginners might fare better with a class to learn the basics of the practice as well as the different movements, once you are familiar with the practice, you can do tai chi anywhere, anytime.

Examples & Resources:

10. Expand Your Vocabulary

Sure, having a vocabulary rich in complex, meaningful words makes you sound smart. But did you also know that building your vocabulary can also increase your brain’s cognitive capabilities? Research shows that, when it comes to vocabulary tasks, many regions of the brain are involved, particularly in areas that are essential for auditory and visual processing.

Examples & Resources:

  • Test this theory by trying the following brain-boosting exercise: When you read a book, keep a notebook on-hand. Write down a word that you don’t know and look it up in the dictionary. Try to incorporate that word into your daily conversations at least five times the following day.
  • Merriam Webster offers a Word-A-Day online and free. - At the time of writing this, our word of the day was “quixotic: unpredictable or foolishly impractical.” We think “not”! 😉
brain exercises for health

Why Brain Exercises Can Strengthen Your Mind

Research has shown that there are many different ways to help your brain stay healthy and hone your mental sharpness -- no matter your age. Doing certain brain exercises to help boost your focus, concentration, and memory can make daily tasks easier and quicker to do while keeping your brain sharp as you grow older. There are four key elements of a good brain-boosting exercise, including:

  1. It’s rewarding. You can support your brain’s learning process through rewards. In other words, the more engaged and interested you are in the activity or exercise, the more likely you’ll continue to do it -- and the greater the benefits you’ll notice. So, choose exercises that, while maybe difficult, are still satisfying and enjoyable.
  1. It’s a skill you can build on. Look for brain-boosting exercises that begin at an easy level and work up to a more challenging level as you improve your skills -- always providing you the chance to stretch your capabilities. When a level that was difficult at first begins to feel comfortable, that’s your cue to move up to the next performance level.
  1. It’s challenging. The most effective brain-boosting activities demand your close and full attention. It’s not enough that you found the activity challenging at first; it must continue to require mental effort every day. In other words, learning to play a complex piece of new music counts as an effective memory-boosting activity. Playing that once-difficult piece of music over and over once you’ve already mastered it may be fun, but is not as effective for a challenge.
  1. It teaches you something new. Regardless of how challenging or complex the exercise, if you’re already good at it, it’s not as good as a brain-boosting exercise. The activity should be something that’s out of your comfort zone and unfamiliar to you. To strengthen your brain, it’s essential to keep developing and learning new skills.

The bottom line is that focusing on your brain health is one of the best things you can do to improve your mental agility, memory, focus, and concentration -- no matter your age. By incorporating the above brain-boosting exercises into your daily routine, you’ll get to sharpen your cognitive skills, challenge your mind, and possibly learn something enriching and new along the way, too.

at-home exercise health fitness calendar from SportPort

Find a whole month's worth of free classes, sessions and selections on our new Exercise, Health & Fitness Calendar where you can pick and choose from any and create your own schedule.

Additional Research & Resources:

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