It’s easy to appreciate that physical exercise is good for the body. Did you know that mental exercise is good for the mind? There are brain exercises to help improve memory and learning just like pushups help improve arm and chest strength. Leveraging these simple actions can help you build and maintain better overall cognitive performance.
Brain Training Exercises
Before we dive in let’s first appreciate a universal trend in human health: mental health is closely connected with physical health. In possibly the most expansive study of its kind to date, researchers found that, over a 30-year period of time, healthy lifestyle choices correlated to a significant decrease in all forms of major disease and correlated to better mental health (R). Certain brain supplements can help improve memory and learning but, for long-term, sustained results—it’s about putting in the work. These brain-training exercises can help.
For those visual learners and artists out there, this one is no surprise. The simple act of drawing things can help improve memory and learning skills (R). This brain exercise is two-fold; it helps internalize new information as an extension of the learning process and can also help boost learning and memory capacity.
Drawing something over and over again can help you remember it, just like reading something over and over might. There’s a reason that marketers use pictures and video, that scientists use charts and diagrams, and computers main source of user interaction is visual. Human perception is inherently weighted towards the visual perspective. Leveraging that natural tendency can help optimize your capacity for learning.
Learn a New Language
Researchers have helped deepen our understanding of how our brains learn a new language. They’ve helped show why it’s harder to learn languages later in life and simple techniques to help reduce the barriers. Learning a new language helps grow new brain cells and form new synaptic connections. Both of these are attributed to better learning and memory skills, as well as overall brain health.
Research suggests that learning a second language can delay the onset of age-related cognitive decline by as much as 5 years (R). That might not sound sensational enough to write home about—but imagine having 5 extra years to enjoy life to the fullest. That’s 1,825 days! There’s also enough research to consider second-language-learning as a potential therapy for treating mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia (R). Learning a new language can likely help you expand and preserve your cognitive capacity.
The impact that exercise has on the brain has been shown to directly impact memory and learning skills (R). For example, physical exercise increases the production of BDNF which is partially responsible for growing new brain tissue and forming new synaptic connections. That’s how you learn new things. Research has well-established that physical exercise helps stave off age-related cognitive decline but less is mentioned about how it can help improve current cognitive health (R).
More modern research suggests that chemicals released during exercise, such as epinephrine, are associated with improved memory and learning (R). While initial lab-testing on animals has shown significant increases in brain size in areas associated with memory and learning, human studies have been less conclusive (R). In cases such as these, it’s hard to know if the lack of evidence is a lack of ability to properly test or simply a lack of significance. Either way, there’s enough evidence to suggest physical exercise can help improve learning.
Meditation has started sweeping Western cultures like a storm. There are meditation apps, courses, and nearly every town now has meditation groups. There have been several studies to describe the physiological impacts of meditation on our brain—all of which are positive. Meditation has been studied for its influence on many major diseases such as HIV development (not contraction), cancer, back pain, and even kidney disease. The scope of the benefits of meditation on our health is vast, to say the least.
Research shows that meditation can greatly improve the brain’s ability and capacity for performing learning-based tasks. One study found that meditation significantly improves spatial memory, reaction time, and decision-making (R). These are tasks that we each utilize every day of our lives—whether we’re deciding on water vs. tea or whether or not to pull the plug on a loved one. Regardless of importance, the underlying brain function required to make such decisions is fundamentally similar. Meditation will make your brain work better for longer, period.
Supplements like nootropics can help provide an edge when it comes to learning and memory. In most cases, these should be considered temporary fixes. Brain health is about taking action to improve your lifestyle on a daily basis. Eating better improves brain health. Exercising improves brain health. Things like meditation and learning new things help improve brain health. What all these actions have in common is that they can be done on a daily basis as little or lot as one is able. Maybe you’re not in good enough shape to run 5 miles a day—start by walking for 10 minutes. Every little bit counts and long term health is about what you do every day.