7 Brain Exercises to Strengthen Your Mind

Brain exercises are activities that are designed to maintain and strengthen cognitive abilities such as working memory, processing speed, and executive function.

While you might know that you need to exercise your body, did you know that it might also be important to exercise your mind? You've probably heard the old adage "use it or lose it." Many researchers do believe that this maxim applies to your brain health.

Brain training is often touted as a way to sharpen your mind and even boost intelligence. While many cognitive scientists suggest that the claims surrounding brain training are both exaggerated and misleading, there is an abundance of research suggesting that certain types of activities can be beneficial for your brain's health.

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Take Care of Your Body to Take Care of Your Mind

Man and woman exercising
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If you want to take care of your mind, you need to start by taking care of your body.

Research has time and time again shown that people who engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise and proper nutrition are less susceptible to the cognitive declines associated with the aging process.

One study suggested that exercise can protect your brain from shrinkage as it ages. Researchers have also found that exercise can promote neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, in the brain's hippocampus.

One study published in 2013 looked at healthy behaviors in nearly 2,300 men over the course of thirty years. Researchers looked at the participants' behaviors and cognitive abilities starting in middle age and tracked their progress throughout old age.

The researchers found that men who practiced certain healthy behaviors were around 60% less likely to experience cognitive impairment and dementia as they age.

These healthy behaviors included not smoking, maintaining a healthy BMI, regularly exercising, consuming lots of vegetables and fruits, and consuming a low to moderate amount of alcohol.

So if you want to build a better mind, start by working on your physical health first. Go for a walk, start incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, and try to give up any bad habits like excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco use. Some of these might be more difficult than others, but your brain will thank you for years to come.


Draw a Map of Your Town From Memory

Drawing a map from memory
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While you might feel like you can navigate the streets of your neighborhood with your eyes closed, try challenging your brain by actually drawing a map of your town or neighborhood from memory. No cheating! Try to include major streets, major side streets, and local landmarks.

Once you are done, compare your memory map to a real map of the area. How did you do? Are you surprised by some of the things that you missed? If you found this activity too easy, try drawing a less familiar area from memory, such as a map of the entire United States or Europe, and try to label every state or country.

Navigating your way to the supermarket or doctor's office might seem simple and almost automatic when you are behind the wheel of your car. However, forcing yourself to remember the layout of your neighborhood as well as draw and label it helps activate a variety of areas of your brain.


Learn Something New

Learning to play guitar
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This brain exercise requires a bit of commitment, but it is also one that just might give you the most bang for your buck. Learning something new is one way to keep your brain on its toes and continually introduce new challenges.

In one study, researchers assigned older adults to learn a variety of new skills ranging from digital photography to quilting. They then did memory tests and compared the experimental groups to control groups. Those in the control groups had engaged in activities that were fun but not mentally challenging such as watching movies and listening to the radio.

The researchers found that only those participants who had learned a new skill experienced improvement on the memory tests.

They also discovered that these memory improvements were still present when tested again a year later.

Some things you might want to try include learning a new language, learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new hobby. Not only will you be stretching your mind, but you will also be continually learning something new as you keep expanding your skills and becoming more accomplished.


Try Using Your Non-Dominant Hand

Writing with other hand
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Up next is an interesting brain exercise that one neurobiologist suggests might help "keep your brain alive."

In his book Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness, neurobiologist Lawrence Katz recommends using your non-dominant hand to strengthen your mind. Because using your opposite hand can be so challenging, it can be a great way to increase brain activity.

Try switching hands while you are eating dinner or when you are trying to write something down. It will be difficult, but that is exactly the point.

The most effective brain activities are those that are not necessarily easy.



Friends socializing
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Studies from 2019 suggest that people who are socially active are also at a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Socializing tends to engage multiple areas of the brain and many social activities also include physical elements, such as playing a sport, that is also beneficial to your mind.

Even if you are an inveterate introvert, seeking social interactions can be beneficial to your brain in both the short and long term. Some ideas for staying socially engaged include:

  • Signing up for volunteer opportunities in your community
  • Joining a club
  • Signing up for a local walking group
  • Staying in close touch with your friends and family


Woman meditating in office
John Lund/Tiffany Schoepp / Blend Images / Getty Images

One brain exercise you might not have considered might actually be extremely effective—meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is often espoused by positive psychologists for its beneficial effects.

Research suggests that mindfulness and meditation are associated with greater neuroplasticity, reduced brain aging, and improved cognitive abilities.

If you ready to try this brain exercise, you can read a quick guide to practicing mindfulness meditation. You can also check out some handy tips for incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life.


What About All Those Brain Training Games?

Young Woman Using Tablet

 Getty Images

Chances are probably pretty good that you've at least heard, or even tried, some of the many brain training games, websites, and apps that are out there. Many of these tools claim that these computerized brain exercises can increase your mental flexibility, keep you mentally sharper as you age and even make you more intelligent.

While there is still plenty of debate about whether or not these claims are true, there is a chance that playing these types of mental games might is good for your brain.

How much exactly is still up for debate. If you think you would enjoy such games, you can find a nice list of brain training resources that you might want to check out.

If, however, you already spend too much time staring at your computer screen or smartphone, your time is probably much better well spent going out for a stroll, enjoying a new hobby or even visiting with a friend. All of these activities can have major long-term effects on the health and vitality of your brain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best exercise for my brain?

    The best exercise for your brain is moderate to vigorous physical activity. Research suggests that aerobic exercise is best for cognitive ability, while resistance training is the most helpful for memory and executive function. Aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening exercise.

  • How can I exercise my brain everyday?

    Try incorporating brain-strengthening activities throughout your day. Get some exercise, do a crossword puzzle while you eat breakfast, and read a book before bed. Practicing good self-care, including ensuring you are getting adequate sleep and eating a balanced diet, may also be helpful.

  • What exercises improve brain memory?

    Some ideas include memory card games to boost short-term memory, doing jigsaw puzzles to strengthen working memory, and learning something new to help enhance overall memory.

  • How can I sharpen my brain?

    If you want to sharpen your brain, focus on doing brain exercises that target some of the areas measured by IQ tests, such as working memory, executive function, and spatial reasoning. Helpful brain exercises can include Sodoku, Scrabble, brainteasers, and mazes.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Stanford Center on Longevity. A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community.

  2. Yuki A, Lee S, Kim H, Kozakai R, Ando F, Shimokata H. Relationship between physical activity and brain atrophy progressionMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(12):2362-2368. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182667d1d

  3. Liu PZ, Nusslock R. Exercise-mediated neurogenesis in the hippocampus via BDNFFront Neurosci. 2018;12:52. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00052

  4. Elwood P, Galante J, Pickering J, et al. Healthy lifestyles reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and dementia: evidence from the Caerphilly cohort studyPLoS One. 2013;8(12):e81877. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081877

  5. Park DC, Lodi-Smith J, Drew L, et al. The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: the Synapse ProjectPsychol Sci. 2014;25(1):103–112. doi:10.1177/0956797613499592

  6. Palmer MD. Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness, by Lawrence Katz and Manning RubinActivities, Adaptation & Aging. 2016;40(1):80-80. doi:10.1080/01924788.2016.1144015.

  7. Sommerlad A, Sabia S, Singh-manoux A, Lewis G, Livingston G. Association of social contact with dementia and cognition: 28-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS Med. 2019;16(8):e1002862. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002862

  8. Lardone A, Liparoti M, Sorrentino P, et al. Mindfulness meditation is related to long-lasting changes in hippocampal functional topology during resting state: A magnetoencephalography studyNeural Plast. 2018;2018:5340717. doi:10.1155/2018/5340717

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?

  10. Stankov L, Lee J. We can boost IQ: Revisiting Kvashchev's experimentJ Intell. 2020;8(4):41. doi:10.3390/jintelligence8040041

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."