Although the brain gets plenty of exercise every day, certain activities may help boost brain function and connectivity. This in turn may help protect the brain from age-related degeneration.
The brain is always active, even during sleep. However, certain activities can engage the brain in new ways, potentially leading to improvements in memory, cognitive function, or creativity.
This article outlines 22 brain exercises that may help boost memory, cognition, and creativity.
Meditation generally involves focusing attention in a calm, controlled way. Meditating may have multiple benefits for both the brain and the body.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, research suggests that meditation may benefit the brain by slowing brain aging and increasing the brain’s ability to process information.
2. Visualizing more
Visualization involves forming a mental image to represent information. The mental image may be in the form of pictures or animated scenes.
A 2018 review notes that visualization helps people organize information and make appropriate decisions.
People can practice visualization in their day-to-day lives. For example, before going shopping, people can visualize how they will get to and from the grocery store, and imagine what they will buy when they get there. The key is to imagine the scenes vividly and in as much detail as possible.
3. Playing games
Playing card games or board games can be a fun way to socialize or pass the time. These activities may also be beneficial for the brain. A 2017 study found a link between playing games and a decreased risk of cognitive impairment in older adults.
4. Playing memory card games
Memory card games test a person’s short-term memory and ability to remember patterns. They are a simple and fun way to engage the brain and activate areas related to pattern recognition and recall.
5. Practicing crossword puzzles
Crossword puzzles are a popular activity that may stimulate the brain. An older study from 2011 notes that crossword puzzles may delay the onset of memory decline in people with preclinical dementia.
6. Completing jigsaw puzzles
Completing a jigsaw puzzle can be a good way to pass the time and may also benefit the brain. A 2018 study found that puzzles activate many cognitive functions, including:
- mental rotation
- working memory
The study concluded that doing jigsaw puzzles regularly and throughout life may protect against the effects of brain aging.
7. Playing sudoku
Number puzzles, such as sudoku, can be a fun way to challenge the brain. They may also improve cognitive function in some people.
A 2019 study of adults aged between 50 and 93 years found that those who practiced number puzzles more frequently tended to have better cognitive function.
8. Playing chess
A 2016 meta-analysis notes that chess and other cognitive leisure activities may lead to improvements in:
- executive functioning, which is the ability to monitor and adapt behavior in order to meet set goals
- information processing speed
9. Playing checkers
A 2015 study found that there is a connection between regular participation in checkers or other cognitively stimulating games and larger brain volume and improved markers of cognitive health in people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
10. Playing video games
A 2015 review notes that some types of video games — such as action, puzzle, and strategy games — may lead to improvements in the following:
- problem solving
- cognitive flexibility
Enjoying company of friends may be a mentally engaging leisure activity and may help preserve cognitive function. A 2019 study found that people with more frequent social contact were less likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia.
Some social activities that may help stimulate the brain include:
- having discussions
- playing games
- participating in social sports
12. Learning new skills
Learning new skills engages the brain in different ways and may help improve brain function.
A 2014 study of older adults found that learning a new and cognitively demanding skill, such as quilting or photography, enhanced memory function.