Let’s talk about exercise. Mental exercise.
Don’t worry, you won’t need a gym membership for this.
Mainstream media is filled with hundreds and thousands of articles, tips and guides on exercises to lose weight, gain muscle, build strength and much more. Physical exercise is great for your health and body, but what about your brain? How do you sharpen your memory skills? Or improve your problem-solving abilities? Or just maintain a level of focus? To achieve all of these things and help protect your cognition, you must exercise your brain.
Mental exercise can be done from the comfort of your own home or even on the go. It doesn’t require much equipment and similar to the effects of physical fitness, you will see and feel the benefits of this for years and years to come.
We’ve come up with a list of four mental exercises you can fit into your busy lives and do every day.
1. Nelson Dellis’ Memory tips
Nelson Dellis, among many things, is the Grandmaster of Memory and four-time USA Memory Champion, athlete who “preaches a lifestyle that combines fitness, both mental and physical” (Dellis, 2019).
In collaboration with Peak, Dellis created and helped to launch a module on the Peak app titled “Memory Masterclass”. The masterclass provides in-depth tutorials featuring 22 lessons that teach the secrets of Dellis’ ways, some of which helped him become a world-renowned memory athlete.
Dellis was not born with super powers, nor was he bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school trip, instead, he was born with a fairly average memory like most people and trained and exercised to improve his mind to be where he is today.
One technique Dellis uses is to build a memory palace to help him remember items and lists. Similar to Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, a memory palace works on the basis of turning what you are wanting to memorise into a series of pictures. The steps are as follows:
- Think of your house
- Turn your list into a set of mnemonic pictures
- Place these items around your house
- To remember the list you would simply visualise yourself walking through your house, starting at the front door, making your way through the house.
This technique is a great mental exercise and will allow you to remember whatever you want, whenever you want (Dellis, 2017).
2. Listen to Music
Music is an essential part of what it means to be humanRobert Zatorre, NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop Music and the Brain: Research Across the Lifespan
In 2018 the Kennedy Centre conducted a workshop with a panel of experts to discuss the research of music and the brain. The panel noted that “music’s strong links to the brain’s reward systems, make musical training a strong driver of adaptive neural plasticity in circuits involved in speech processing” – making listening to music a great, easy and fun way to exercise your brain (Cheever et al., 2018). Not only is music easily accessible, but this can be done anywhere; on your way to work, in the car, at work, just pop your headphones on, press play on your favourite tune and enjoy.
Need some recommendations? We’ve got that covered too:
- everything i wanted by Billie Eilish
- Dance Monkey by Tones and I
- Light Up by Harry Styles
- Bruises by Lewis Capaldi
- Ride It by Regard
3. Brain Training Games
Brain training games are another fun way of getting your daily dose of mental exercise. Not only are they are available at the touch of a button, but they are extremely versatile and target a number of areas such as:
- Problem solving
- Mental agility
- Creative thinking.
Allowing you to choose and exercise one aspect or several in one go. One example of this is the game Decoder in the Peak app which is made to help improve your attention and concentration skills. Another example is the game Wizard, designed to hone your memory skills through a series of games and quests. Both are great cases of brain training games which are backed by scientific research and studies. Furthermore, they only take five minutes of your time each day and could be the difference between completing two tasks at work to completing four.
4. Read A Book
Exercising your brain doesn’t need to be complicated, it can be as simple as reading a good book. Reading is often underrated and it doesn’t include reading tweets about Kim Kardashion from your phone, but rather, in-depth long reading such as a novel. Research shows that it can help aspects of emotional intelligence such as empathy and theory-of-mind*. In particular, “people who read fiction improve their understanding of others” as reading activates multiple parts of your brain and literary fiction allows us to form emotional connections with characters (Oatley, 2016).
*According to Psychology Today, theory-of-mind’s core ideas is understanding another person’s desires, beliefs, intentions and acknowledging that someone’s mental state and knowledge may differ from your own.
Here are some of our favourites, in case you’re looking to read something new:
- Hello World by Hannah Fry
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
- The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
As complicated as ‘mental exercise’ may sound, we hope we have shown you that it is anything but! Following these simple tips and tricks may help defend your brain against cognitive deficits and help to keep your mind in shape for whatever life throws at it.
Brought to you by Peak, makers of the Peak – Brain Training and Peak Sleep – Sleep Better apps. Start brain training and sleeping well today:
Cheever, T., Taylor, A., Finkelstein, R., Edwards, E., Thomas, L., Bradt, J., Holochwost, S., Johnson, J., Limb, C., Patel, A., Tottenham, N., Iyengar, S., Rutter, D., Fleming, R. and Collins, F. (2018). NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop on Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony. Neuron, 97(6), pp.1214-1218.
Oatley, K. (2016). Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(8), pp.618-628.
Dellis, N. (2017). THE MEMORY PALACE // RANDOM MEMORY TIPS #002. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF0obg-Fhes%5D.