Most people spend a couple of hours every week on muscle-strengthening activities, weight training routines and cardio exercises. They make a lot of time to train their bodies but not their brains.
Many forms of exercise can also help your brain but how much time do you invest in brain training activities and habits?
Your brain isn’t just for thinking. It controls everything you do — doing everything you can to maintain it, protect it or enhance it can do you more good over the long-term.
Mental exercises are not just good for improving your mind, they are also great for protecting your brain, retrieving information, recalling what we learn quickly and sharpening your focus. Numerous studies reveal the importance of mental activities as we age.
The good news is, you don’t even have to spend a lot of time sharpening your mind every day. 15 minutes may seem like a short amount of time to improve an important organ in your body but doing it consistently can have a significant effect for a very long-term.
Learning how to get your mind active can improve your cognition skills in the long-term especially as you get older. “Regular mental challenges force you to think. Use it, or you’ll lose it,” says Constantine Lyketsos, PhD, professor at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Switch up what you read, watch or listen
New or different content will stimulate underused brain areas, making them easier to activate again in future, and helping to increase your overall cognitive skills.
An unfamiliar source of knowledge can force your brain to do more, think better or focus more. Switching it up makes you use more of your senses to take in information, and staying more engaged to retain more of it.
When you focus on new media or topic, you develop concentration, which is crucial for healthy ageing. If you’re finding yourself bored with reading, listen to an audiobook or podcast. Remember to take a break in after every new media type.
Tune-up your learning
Read a different article every day about a topic you are curious about. You can spend 5 to 10 minutes reading what you find.
Whether you are interested in health, relationships, personal finance, career-specific, art, philosophy, marketing, sales, or psychology, there are tons of information available to help you level up. You can start here.
Once you start reading, write one to two sentences in your favourite note-taking app to summarise what you learn. You can add to it every day, review it every week. Doing this will solidify the information in your mind.
Practice a hobby
If you’re into arts and crafts, painting, writing, journaling, deep reading or any personal hobby, practising your hobby for even 10 minutes a day can improve your cognitive functions since most parts of your brain will be used in the process. The key here is to practice every day.
Spend 5 minutes every day on daily life introspection. You can do this first thing the morning or just before you go to bed. Meta-cognition is “thinking about your thinking” or becoming “aware of your awareness”.
It can help you think about how you get things done, make decisions and what you could have done differently, better or faster. Think of the situation where better planning and time or attention management would have yielded you a better result or saved you time.
Think about how you reacted to events in the past 24 hours and what you could have done differently to live up to your values in life. Meta-cognition can help you hone your thinking skills and improve your mental clarity.
Writing is thinking. Anything that engaged your brain more can help you improve your cognition. “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” David McCullough once said.
Writing is essentially one of the best ways to clarify and communicate our thoughts. The act of writing forces you to think through all the details and steps required to share your thoughts, opinions and ideas.
Writing develops your critical thinking skills and improves how you learn. When you write, don’t aim for perfection, focus on putting your thoughts down.
It’s okay if you write in a journal or decide not to share your thoughts online. So, write to become a better critical thinker — as you focus on your thinking process, your writing will also improve.
This article first appeared on Medium