8 Brain-Friendly Activities That Put the Fun in Cognitive Function

Have you felt mentally sluggish lately or like your head is in a fog? Perhaps you’ve found it difficult to focus on important tasks or had trouble remembering things. If this describes you, there are several science-backed ways to boost your brain function.

First, know that several factors can affect brain function — for better or worse. Take aging, for instance. As the body ages, the brain experiences decreases in volume, weight, and in its number of neurons and synapses, changes which can lead to a decline in cognitive abilities. Additionally, poor nutritional habits and chronic stress can negatively impact our brains. Body chemistry also plays a role in brain health, and deficiencies or imbalances in certain hormones, neurotransmitters, and antioxidants (like carnosine) can decrease cognitive function.

What Activities Are Best for Optimal Brain Health?

Despite the many lifestyle choices and environmental factors that can negatively impact brain health, there are equally as many (enjoyable!) activities that can improve cognitive function, decrease stress, and even slow cognitive decline. Below are several activities that have been proven by science to improve brain function.

1. Playing brain games.

Want to improve your memory, attention, and problem-solving skills? Spend a little time puzzling over the daily crossword, recommends Harvard Health. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities like doing crossword puzzles can improve cognition and even prevent brain shrinkage, according to recent studies.

2. Knitting.

Grandma apparently knew a thing or two about staying sharp: research has shown knitting provides physical and mental health benefits, including improved cognitive function and a reduction in stress and anxiety. Knitting has increased in popularity in recent years, with people of all ages adopting this brain-friendly activity. Why not grab your own needles and yarn and join them?

3. Building models.

Model kits aren’t just for kids. Assembling model cars, boats, and planes involves precise work manipulating small pieces and using specialized tools — activities that improve fine motor skills as well as overall cognitive function.

4. Dancing.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to tango or salsa, now’s a great time to get moving. In a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, dancing had a notably positive effect on the wiring and gray matter of the aging brain.

8 brain friendly activities

5. Listening to music.

Whether you prefer indie, pop, soul, or jazz, listening to your favorite tunes can boost cognitive function and improve focus. An added benefit: music decreases stress by increasing the release of neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine and reducing the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.

6. Reading.

Can you remember the name of the last book you read to completion? If not, consider dedicating time each week to leisure reading — your brain will thank you. One study found reading protects cognitive function in later life, reducing the risk of cognitive decline in older adults.

7. Creating art.

Creative activities like drawing and painting benefit overall brain health in a myriad of ways. Art-making has been shown to increase functional creativity in the brain and enhance activation of the visual cortex, while significantly lowering levels of cortisol in the body.

8. Learning a second language.

Studying a new language can be an enriching life experience, but it can also change your brain for the better. For example, bilingual adults have increased white matter integrity in the brain and delayed cognitive decline compared to adults who only speak one language.

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