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With society’s current focus on getting more done, faster, and with less effort, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to automate everything from our phones How To Automate Your iPhone To Adapt To Your Routine How To Automate Your iPhone To Adapt To Your Routine iPhone automation is not as robust as desktop operating systems, but there are some iPhone features and apps that can help you in your daily routine if you take the time to set them up. Read More to robotize our homes Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino The home automation market is flooded with expensive consumer systems, incompatible with one another and costly to install. If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, you can basically achieve the same thing at... Read More , and take our brains out of the equation. Brains can fatigue and make mistakes, so sometimes it makes sense to “rely on them less”. But keeping your brain healthy and in top shape requires that you exercise and challenge it on a regular basis.

Here are five things you can do to increase your mental fitness in just a few minutes.

#1. Work on a Crossword Puzzle

Word tasks are great for exercising your brain, and exercising your verbal skills will help in the long run, both with verbal tasks and with mental health. Even if you only have five minutes, you can get a start on a mobile, desktop, or paper crossword puzzle. If you’re good, you might get through one in five minutes.

nyt-mini-crossword

Subscribing to a crossword puzzle app or website is a great idea. I love the New York Times crossword app, and their daily mini puzzle is easy to get done in a couple of minutes. You can get free ones all over the Internet at places like The Guardian‘s crosswords page and Yahoo!’s daily crosswords, and in free newspapers around the world (including The Onion, one of my favorite papers for crosswords).

#2. Play a Game That Makes You Think

A lot of my favorite games require very little thinking (they also usually involve a lot of super high-tech futuristic weaponry and big explosions), but I also like some that require me to think a bit. Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Flow Free, a game that requires some spatial thinking and planning Games Are More Than Fun - This Is What Flow Free Can Teach You Games Are More Than Fun - This Is What Flow Free Can Teach You Is life a game? Arguably not, but since games often resemble everyday life in many different ways, plenty of life lessons can be deducted from them. A simple and fun puzzle game called Flow Free... Read More . Number-based games like Drop7 Cross Tetris With Sudoku & You Get The Insanely Addictive Drop7 [Android] Cross Tetris With Sudoku & You Get The Insanely Addictive Drop7 [Android] Drop7 is a Zynga game. Zynga has good antecedents when it comes to online games, so you know that there’s a good chance that the $2.99 you spend on Drop7 won’t be a bad investment... Read More and Threes Could Threes Be The Most Addictive Puzzle Game For iOS Yet? Could Threes Be The Most Addictive Puzzle Game For iOS Yet? Do you hate productivity? Do you like to ignore the people in your life? Threes should be right up your alley, because it's going to take up all of your time. Read More are also good for making you think while you’re having fun.

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For more options, check out Mihir’s collection of six great numbers games Fun With Numbers: 6 Best Single-Player Games For Mental Math Fun With Numbers: 6 Best Single-Player Games For Mental Math You'll need math, logic or a combination of the two to make it through these. And be warned, they are crazy addictive. Read More  from earlier in this year.

flow-free-ios

If you’re playing a game that involves any sort of puzzle-solving, memory, or strategic planning, you’ll get your brain working and you’ll be using skills that can help you in real life. Even first-person shooters have been shown to increase things like situational awareness and reaction speed, so imagine what a game that requires even more higher-level thinking can do for you!

#3. Use Brain Trainer Apps

Whether or not these actually you make you smarter, there’s no doubt that they’ll help you engage your brain. Do math, work on your reflexes, enhance general knowledge, or train to improve your memory Keep Your Brain Ticking With These 5 Android Memory Training Apps Keep Your Brain Ticking With These 5 Android Memory Training Apps On an individual level, I am finding out that the barrage of information each day is shortening my recall. I guess my brain can store only that much and not more. As experts’ advice, it’s... Read More . Keep your brain flexible and help build skills like attention and quick thinking.

elevate-brain-trainer-ios

A quick search for “brain trainer” on the App Store reveals a lot of options, (an app called Elevate is pictured above) and there are plenty of websites that will let you do this sort of thing as well, like Lumosity.

I’ll caution you to take the scores with a grain of salt. Many of them claim to have loads of science backing them, but measuring cognitive skills and intelligence is actually very difficult, especially for something as simple as an iOS game.

#4. Read Longform Articles

When I have a few extra minutes and I want to read something, I often gravitate towards Twitter or sites that specialize in shorter articles that I can quickly digest. However, taking the time to read longform articles Too Long But Do Read: 6 Places To Go To For Some Of The Best Reading On The Web Too Long But Do Read: 6 Places To Go To For Some Of The Best Reading On The Web TLDR is now an accepted part of Internet slang. Too Long Didn't Read is symptomatic of our attention spans…or rather lack of it. But there's a subtle shift that's happening beneath the layers of the... Read More  — even if you have to split them up throughout the day — can be a very relaxing and enlightening experience.

longform-ios-app

Longer articles, like in-depth reports, investigative news, and cultural criticism-type stuff is great for helping you learn new things. It’s entertaining, but it also helps you learn and broaden your experience of the world. A great way to get into longform reading is to use the Longform app for iOS, which helps you find authors and publications that you like.

#5. Learn a New Skill

This is a brain-exercising activity that can take you away from the screen for a while, which is nice. Learning a new skill How To Learn A New Skill Systematically With Collaborative Learning Playlists How To Learn A New Skill Systematically With Collaborative Learning Playlists Wouldn’t learning benefit from playlists? It could be a neat way to make sense of all the knowledge out there, by keeping the best learning bytes on a playlist. We can progress step by step... Read More  — especially one that takes coordination or good timing — is a great way to tax your brain in news ways. I’m learning to drum, which makes me concentrate really hard on hand-foot and left-right independence, two things that are very mentally taxing.

juggling-balls

Have you ever wanted to learn to juggle? To cut a deck of cards with one hand? To write with your left hand? You can find tons of tutorials online for these and any other useful (or useless!) skill that will help you get started. Just spend five minutes practicing once or twice a day, and you’ll be on your way to learning something new and strengthening your brain.

Bonus Exercise: Writing

Most people don’t tend to put pen to paper much anymore, but it can be a great way to engage both the motor and higher functions of your brain. And, as a bonus, it can be incorporated into most of the tasks above in some way or another. Sitting down to journal for five minutes, or even making a “done” list (the opposite of a to-do list; if you haven’t tried making one, I highly recommend it!) on paper can be really gratifying.

Writing takes practice How To Develop The Skilled Writer Inside You For A Successful Life How To Develop The Skilled Writer Inside You For A Successful Life It's not about writing the next great novel. It could just come down to writing an intelligent Facebook status message and creating an impact. Let's talk about the importance of writing well. Read More , but it’s an extremely valuable skill to develop. And if you need some help motivating yourself to write, invest in a high-quality notebook and some pens 3 Paper Notebooks Worth Shelling Out For 3 Paper Notebooks Worth Shelling Out For We do a lot of writing about high-tech ways to keep track of things and manage your life. But sometimes a plain old notebook is the best thing you can use. Read More —you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes!

How Do You Exercise Your Brain?

Next time you have five minutes, try one of these five things and give your brain a little boost. You might find that it gives you more energy and helps you focus when you get back to work, and it’s nice knowing that you’re doing something that will help improve your thinking skills and contribute toward good mental health in the future!

What types of brain-exercising activities do you enjoy? What do you recommend for others? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Close up view of a blank crossword puzzle grid with black and white squares and a pencil (edited), Colored balls on wood background via Shutterstock.

  1. Ifham
    December 11, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Try playing dual-n-back for fluid intelligence improvement.

    There is an open-source version available for windows which has varying difficulty levels. A version of the app is available for iOS as well but it really just a vanilla version of the app.
    There must be some adaption of the app for android as well, however I dont use android and so, I dont know.

    • Dann Albright
      December 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      n-back tasks are great for testing and improving working memory! I've never tried a dual-task one like this, though . . . sounds super interesting. I'll have to give it a shot after I install Silverlight.

      Thanks for pointing this out!

  2. Dann Albright
    November 1, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    I've never heard of dancing as a brain exercise, but every time I've gone out lindy hopping, I definitely feel the mental strain!

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Steffen Pedersen
    October 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Dance whenever you have the poosibility. Dancing will make you smarter. Best of all: Dance argentine tango.
    http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm

  4. CF
    October 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Here is a great technology-free exercise to train your memory:

    Before going to sleep while you are lying in the bed start remembering what did you do during the day, the trick is to do it BACKWARDS. Start doing it with big events and then being more specific in details. Example: I changed my clothes, brush my teeth, had dinner, etc and then I put my pijamas, take off my tshirt and pants, brush my teeth using XX brand, had a BBQ for dinner, etc

    • Dann Albright
      October 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      That's a really interesting idea! Sounds like a great way to get some memory exercise. I feel like I'd probably fall asleep by the time I got to preparing dinner. :-)

  5. Hildy J
    October 24, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    For Android, there are two must have apps.

    Shortyz is a crossword puzzle app that downloads a number of puzzles from around the web including USA Today, LA Times, Wash Post, Newsday, and others. Supposedly it will also work with paywalled puzzles that you have a login for but I've never used that feature. It's free and ad-free.

    Simon Tatham's Puzzles is a collection of 36 logic and numerical puzzles. It's free and open source with no ads or odd permissions (it's one of the few apps that doesn't ask for internet access). The puzzles are generated by the app so there's no need to download puzzle packages. The puzzle inspired by Sudoku (called Solo, probably for copyright reasons) is the best I've seen, free or paid. Note that the Android version is a port from the main version which is available for numerous operating systems.

    • Mezoomozaa
      October 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      Thank you for the valuable recommendations

    • Dann Albright
      October 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks for adding to the list! These sound like great apps. I'll definitely have to check out Shortyz. I'm always looking better crossword apps, and if it could get the NYT puzzles that I'm subscribed to, that would be fantastic.

  6. Logan MacBride
    October 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Super Meat Boy to test your patience

    • Dann Albright
      October 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      While patient isn't generally mentioned as a cognitive skill, I'd say Super Meat Boy is probably a great way to improve it! :-)

  7. Scott
    October 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Luminosity just took a major hit, didn't it? I'd read that the data shows it didn't do very much, but Portal 2 was a much better exercise.

    • Dann Albright
      October 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      I heard something about that, but I didn't look too deeply into it. In my opinion, most of these apps are probably overhyped by their developers anyway. I can definitely imagine Portal 2 being a great spatial exercise, but even relatively ineffective apps probably give you a bit more well-rounded mental workout. Either way, it's good to take all of these pro and con arguments for those apps with a grain of salt.

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