We’re all aware of the importance of exercising for good health and wellbeing. That’s why people enjoy walking, swimming, taking classes or going to the gym.
But have you exercised your brain lately? It’s not an easy concept to get your head around, if you’ll excuse the pun, but it is vitally important that we do exercise our brains.
But what does that even mean? Research tells us that we can, and indeed need to, stretch the brain and improve its ability to regenerate lost cells.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, and there are expected to be more than 135 million sufferers worldwide by 2050.
But dementia is not inevitable. We can stave off brain illness in the vast majority of cases.
Physical exercise plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of dementia, but just as vital are exercises that stimulate the mind.
So what kind of things are we talking about?
1 Do the obvious things - brain puzzles
Sudoku or crossword puzzle books are often sold in shops under the title ‘brain teasers’ etc. They’re not joking. Problem-solving stretches the brain, but don’t dive in to tackle the most difficult puzzles - work your way up from the easiest levels or your brain might get stressed instead of getting a workout.
2 Try a memory game
Again, an obvious choice but it works. Download an app or buy a book, or work it into your everyday life.
When you go shopping, for example - try to memorise your groceries list.
Another exercise designed to help your brain and its ability to memorise involves finding a random sentence, in a book, a magazine, wherever.
Read it 10 times, say it out loud 10 times. Then try to repeat it in half an hour.
3 Surprise your brain
We all know life can get in a rut. So change your routine, break patterns. That wakes up your brain to the fact that something new is happening.
It doesn’t have to be anything major. If you always brush your teeth and then wash your face, do it the other way round. Take the more scenic route to visit your friend, or try doing things with your left hand instead of your right.
4 Do something new
Boost the capacity of your brain by learning a new skill or just doing something you’ve never done before. That can be anything from learning to bake cakes to playing guitar to visiting a new place or learning a new language.
Take a course, even one you can do at home. Anything to take you out of your comfort zone and get those cogs whirring in your brain.
5 Be Creative
If you don’t count yourself as a creative person, don’t worry. Anybody can create things. They don’t have to be perfect. Creating things has been found to reduce stress and also improve our problem-solving abilities.
So draw or paint a picture, however simple; sew or knit something; write a limerick, even.
Head into the garden and make a new arrangement of plants, head into your shed and construct a shelf. Anything at all, just create!
We must also eat well, sleep well and exercise regularly, and we will go into more detail on all these things in other blogs.
They are vital in the jigsaw of exercising your brain for a longer, happier, healthier life, staving off illnesses and helping to beat dementia.
"The brain is like a muscle"
Scalesceugh Hall and Villas founder Dr Anita Herdeiro believes that exercise - whether it is physical or mental - should be a fabric of everyday life, enabled by its environment.
“The brain is like a muscle; books are the diet and writing is the workout,” she says.
“With our new Wellness Centre being developed for opening in spring 2020, it is an exciting time to find out more about living here, and living among nature.”