Hacks to maintain and improve your brain power

Thoughtful student and friend in lecture. (PHOTO: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)
Thoughtful student and friend in lecture. (PHOTO: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)
Klaus Vedfelt

Feeling a little tired and jaded even though the year is yet a pup? Boost your brain with these fun and easy exercises – they should keep your grey matter well oiled and performing at its peak even as you slide towards older age!

Do things with your nondominant hand

Mixing things up has many benefits and because your brain and hands are connected you can stimulate our mind by using your hands.

Giving your brain new experiences stimulates more connections between different brain areas, improves memory and makes surrounding cells more resistant to the effects of ageing, US-based neurobiologist Lawrence C Katz explains.

So next time you brush your teeth, switch and brush with your “wrong” hand.

You can apply this principle in all sorts of ways – buttoning your shirt, buttering bread, arranging flowers, you name it.

Turn things around

Another way to practise what the experts call “neurobics” is to flip ordinary objects upside down. When looking at something such as a picture on your wall or an ornament on the mantelpiece, the left “verbal” brain is used to recognising it, assessing it then taking your attention away.

But when something is upside down, the right side of your brain is triggered as it recognises something is out of place and tries to identify the object by shape, size and colour.

Another trick is to switch things around in your kitchen cupboards. Your brain gets so used to where everything is it goes into automatic mode – by rearranging things you’ll have to think next time you want to make coffee. 

Shower with eyes closed

Use your tactile sense by turning on the taps and washing your hair and body with your peepers shut. Trying to figure out which bottle is the shampoo and which is the conditioner will train your brain to cope in situations when your sight is compromised.

Switch it up

According to studies, simple everyday tasks stimulate the cortex – the outer layer of the cerebrum – and increase brain activity levels.

But once a task becomes routine, brain activity declines and stagnates. Change things to keep up the smarts: start each day with a meditation session, walk the dog first thing, read while making a cup of coffee – any little change will make a big difference.

Scan at the supermarket

Most of us switch to autopilot when we’re shopping for groceries. Next time you reach for the tuna, scan the shelf from top to bottom and find a brand you don’t recognise.

Pick it up and read the label. You don’t have to buy it to get the benefit as you’ve already broken your routine, experienced something new and exercised your brain.

Roll down the windows

The hippocampus, the area of your brain that processes memories, is responsible for associating odours, sounds and sights to construct mental maps.

Help it along by identifying new smells and sounds the next time you leave the house. Opening the windows when you’re in the car is an easy way to provide this important brain function with raw material.

Think in pictures

Imagery is an effective way to improve your memory, says Ian Robinson, a Dublin-based psychology professor. Research shows pictures activate more areas of our brain than words, proving to be a powerful tool for recalling faces, names, events and experiences.

“We’re brought up to think in pictures as children but as we grow up we lose that ability,” he says. Train your brain to do this by visualising each landmark the next time you plan a route to somewhere or by picturing each item you write down on your grocery list.

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