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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 to robotize our homes, 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.
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. Number-based games like Drop7 and Threes are also good for making you think while you’re having fun.
For more options, check out Mihir’s collection of six great numbers games from earlier in this year.
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 flexible and help build skills like attention and quick thinking.
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 — even if you have to split them up throughout the day — can be a very relaxing and enlightening experience.
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 — 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.
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, 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—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.