It’s almost summer, and with the change in season comes new ideas. While some of us have been less active than we might like over the past year (or more), there are plenty of fun things we can do to keep our brains healthy, engaged, and looking toward the future.
1. Be social.
The past year has been filled with social distancing, which is often a combination of physical distancing (which reduces social interaction) and being house bound (which reduces stimulation and learning). One thing we can do is interact in a positive way with those around us safely. Use this time to connect virtually with family and friends by phone or internet. Join a class learn more about that time in history you’ve always been interested in. Meet up with a friend for a walk. Make plans to spend time in person safely with loved ones, taking proper precautions based on group size, vaccination status and more.
One of the reasons that social interaction is good for the brain is that spending time with people activates the attention, reward, and novelty systems in the brain. This helps to pump brain chemicals that contribute to brain health and positive brain change.
2. Learn something new.
Stretch your brain to new directions by learning a new activity or working hard to improve at a skill you already have. This might be the time to start using an app to learn a new language, to practice a new piece on the piano, or to take up juggling.
It’s also a time when people are taking on home projects, which are demanding but also rewarding—especially when you improve a space where you spend so much time. Challenging the brain by learning or mastering activities is great for the cognitive health: when you learn new things, it builds and strengthens connections among neurons.
3. Listen to new music.
Work on really focusing when you listen to something. Here’s an activity to try: Listen to a song as many times as necessary to write down all the lyrics. Then learn to sing along. Once you’ve mastered one song, move on to another!
Developing better habits of careful listening like this will help you in your understanding, thinking, and remembering. Reconstructing the song requires close attentional focus and an active memory. When you focus, you release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical that enables plasticity and vivifies memory.
4. Switch hands.
If you’re right-handed, use your left hand for some daily activities. Start with brushing your teeth, and practice until you have perfected it. Try to work your way up to more complex tasks, such as eating.
This is an example of a type of exercise that takes something you know and puts it in a new and demanding context. Doing such an activity can drive brain plasticity (which is brain change) on a large scale, as millions of neurons adjust to establish better control of your “other” hand.
5. Train your brain.
Use online programs and other tools focused on helping you strengthen your brain health. Your insurance company, employer or other group may have resources available for you.
For example, Priority Health Medicare Advantage members are now entitled to free membership in BrainHQ, an online headquarters for working out your brain. It includes dozens of exercises that work out attention, memory, brain speed, intelligence, people skills, and navigation. With training that can be done in small bites or long sets, on a computer or mobile device, BrainHQ is designed to fit into any life. More than 100 published papers from high-quality scientific studies found that using BrainHQ helps people think faster, focus better, and remember more.