During my Brain Training Weekly Challenge I started to get my brain in shape. Now I’m so incandescently bright (and smug about it) I’m going to show you exactly how I got there.

Okay, it’s obviously not that simple, but with life expectancy soaring and pension funds crashing, one thing is for sure: we can expect to live and work a good deal longer than our parents. So with that in mind (mind pun there, if you missed it), shouldn’t we be making a little time to keep our brains in good shape?

I have absolutely no scientific evidence as to whether my week-long brain training challenge had any impact on the size or usefulness of my brain, but it was certainly mind-expanding to focus on the ol’ grey cells for 7 days, and what’s more, it was dead easy. So here, for you, are the 4 brain training areas on which I focused to try and get a healthier brain:

Learn a foreign language

There are plenty of scientific studies such as this one, from the brainy bunch in Sweden, which suggests that rapidly learning a foreign language can help the brain continue to grow. I actually wrote about this very early on in my Flux journey in this piece, Learning Language is Brain Food, because for the last few months I’ve been learning and speaking Spanish on a daily basis. The mental benefits were, for me, palpable. I felt revitalised and excited to be using that bit of my brain again.

During Brain Training week my language studies didn’t particularly accelerate (though I was in Bolivia at the time, so did speak Spanish every day) but I did have a count up and reckoned that – since beginning my Spanish disposition – I’d banked around 400-500 Spanish words which I could easily recall, plus the wherewithal to put them together. Learning a new language can be daunting, but the benefits are wide-ranging:

“there is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape,”
Johan MÃ¥rtensson.

Learning a language will give your brain a workout, and if your progress to true bilingual status, it could help stave off Alzheimers and other mental illnesses associated with old age.

If you’re keen on getting started learning Spanish – or any other language – check out the brilliant language hacking blog Fluent in Three Months.

Give meditation a try

Meditation is excellent for the health of your brain. Aside from the obvious benefits of stopping, relaxing and focusing on inner calm, meditation also improves the brain’s ability to deal with anxiety and fear. If we’re less anxious, we’re less stressed, and if we’re less stressed, we’re healthier. During my Meditation Weekly Challenge I learned how to use zen breath meditation, so this was another skill I managed to carry forward into Brain Training Week. For me, it was a good excuse to knuckle down again to practicing on a daily basis.

Any form of meditation is not only a powerful tool for relaxation but also helps rationalise and diminish fear, anxiety and stress. If you’re inspired to get your ohm on, have a look at this great piece from Leo Babuata, entitled ‘Breath’.

Have a crack at some simple brain training exercises

The key to a healthy brain is a regular stream of challenge and novelty, according to this Readers Digest piece. Now, whilst I’ve had that in spades during My Year In Flux, you don’t have to go to such crazy lengths as I have to exercise your brain. Just a few simple memory exercises can help.

It is fun (and pretty scary too) to see how much you can and can’t recall in terms of recent and ancient memories. I tested my recent memories by doing the Mental Photography Challenge during this same week, and I also gave my medium-range memory a scare by each day trying to recall different details of my Flux journey so far. One day, for example, I’d try and remember every Weekly Challenge, another would be to try and list every hostel I’d stayed in on my travels through the Americas. Finally, I pushed my long-term memory recall with even tougher exercises, like ‘how many of your birthdays can you remember?’. While each of these exercises proved hugely frustrating to begin with, I found that my recall improved a little each day.

Give some brain training games a whirl

There are gazilions of brain training apps and games out there that you can play. I chose a game app for my iPhone called Fit Brains which came highly recommended. When I wasn’t working on the more intense brain training exercises above, I found this game-ification of brain training a welcome distraction, enjoying the different types of challenges the app throws at you, with mini-games testing short-term memory and reaction times.

 

Your brain needs exercising just like your body, and just like your body, if you don’t have a regime and your day-to-day routine isn’t particularly active, and you’re going to get flabby. All of the steps I took could be practiced on long journeys, or in the shower, or on the walk to work. Regularly turning that passive time into brain training sessions will undoubtedly improve your mental function. So now I’ve shared my brain fitness routine, it’s your turn: buckle up and get brain training!

Brain Training was a Weekly Challenge I undertook as part of My Year In Flux, a year-long life experiment in which I try something completely new every single week. That’s 52 new skills and experiences in a single year. To see what I’m up to this week, or for previous challenges such as Saving Turtles in Costa Rica, Learning to be an Argentine cowboy or Meditation, mozy on over HERE.