We are constantly hearing stories and advice about the importance of exercising to stay fit. And while the good condition of our body is essential for our good health, we must not neglect our mind, for it is the beginning and ending of everything. The brain, just like your biceps and gluteus, is a muscle, and it needs training in order to remain in top form. Physical exercise and a balanced diet contribute to our mental health, but there is the need to go further than that to stay mentally fit. Let’s discuss some more on the necessity of “mental lifting” and ways to do it. What happens if your brain is asleep on the job? The human brain is a fascinating supercomputer “designed” to perform brilliantly. Together with your mind and billions of cells, it can do wonders. However, if you don’t put enough challenges in front of your brain (e.g. complex thinking and analysis), it becomes stuck in a routine forcing it to complete each task with the minimum amount of energy. This makes it harder for the brain to create new neuronal pathways. This makes your brain weaker, and leaves it exposed to various threats. Looking toward the future You may be thinking that things are OK as they are now, why would you need to train your brain to think better and faster? That is a waste of time. No, actually, it is a waste of mind. It is the same as with your body – you train now, and you know you will be healthier when you grow old. If you don’t exercise your brain, it will be vulnerable to mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other memory and focusing problems. Some people think that dementia is a natural and inevitable part of growing old, but that is not so. Other confuse it with Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to know they are not the same and that both can be avoided. The risk always exists, but it can be minimized, by taking good care of your brain on time. The whys of cognitive training Your daily activities at home and at work are not enough to keep your brain sharp, because it is basically a lazy machine that always searches for similar previous experiences. Cognitive training can help with what we explained in previous paragraphs. It is an organized and continuous activity that includes challenging your brain to develop new thoughts. The goal is seeking fresh unknown events that encourage focus and attentiveness rather than relying on your routine form of thinking. This way, you generate brain cell activity and strengthen your brain. The hows of cognitive training But how can you perform cognitive training? It is a common trap thinking that games like crosswords and Sudoku are enough for that. That may be so at the beginning, but once they become a habit too, the brain will adopt routines for them, and take the easy way out every time. The best cognitive training is tailored for your individual needs. Just as a physical fitness training program, it includes setting an achievable goal, monitoring your progress, and providing ongoing motivation. Ideally, you should dedicate about one hour a week (three 20-minute sessions) to your “mental lifting”. Many dementia care programs include cognitive training exercises tailored individually for each patient which can be more effective than training on your own. Ideas for training your brain As we’ve already said, mental training is different for different people. Still, there are some generally accepted ways of challenging your mind: · Read a new book (even better, a book from an author or genre you’ve never read before) · Learn to play a musical instrument · Learn a new language · Visit new places · Visit trivia events · Arrange scavenger hunts · Try exergame training · Play logic games · Meditate · Write down your thoughts and ideas · Communicate with people beyond chitchat · Take up a hobby · Daydream Working out at the gym helps you perform all of your daily activities much more easily, including carrying heavy bags and climbing the stairs. Training your brain will improve its capabilities and improve all those things you use on a daily basis, including short-term memory, hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial orientation. Furthermore, it will contribute to a healthier and happier future.