May 03, 2020

How to Boost your Brain Power, Especially During These Times

By Joyce Venezia Suss

The past two months have tested the resolve of even the strongest people. Many have battled illness, mourned loved ones, learned how to teach their children at home, and tried to find ways to get fresh air while social distancing.

You may have distracted yourself with phone calls, social media, books, movies, favorite TV shows, and trying new recipes. Perhaps you read last month’s Do It Better column and completed the checklist of spring cleaning projects!

At some point, though, everyone needs some mental stimulation to stay focused and happy while sheltering in place. The following suggestions are good not only for these challenging times, but also help sharpen your mind in general, especially important as you get older.

Many of these “brain exercises” are fun, and some are challenging. Mix them up every now and then to keep things fresh.

Jigsaw puzzles are fun for all ages, and they can be found in discount stores or online. If you haven’t tackled one in a while, start with a 100- or 500-piece puzzle before moving on to a 1,000-piece challenge.

Crossword puzzles, word search, Sudoku and other stimulating games can be addictive. Some are logic based; others help preserve memory and cognitive function. Start with the easy ones, then work your way up to more difficult versions.

Board and card games are a fun group activity, and they’re easy to rotate for variety. Chess is a classic strategy game that appeals to smart people, although when’s the last time you tried a game of checkers? Other family favorites include Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Risk, Sorry, Life, Pictionary and more.

Coloring and doodling work the creative juices. Adult coloring books are a relaxing pastime, especially when paired with a big selection of colored pencils and a sharpener.

Play an instrument to strengthen the brain in multiple ways. Dust off your guitar or piano, or get an electronic keyboard and some instruction guides. Do you still have a clarinet or saxophone in the closet? Take it out and challenge your memory! Even a harmonica, kazoo or bongo drum are good for some energizing rhythm.

Some unusual activities really fire up the neurons. Use chopsticks at a meal. Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, eat or write something. Put your watch on upside down. Close your eyes while folding laundry or taking a shower. Draw a map of your town from memory.

Take online lessons in dance, exercise or tai chi, to learn new moves. Many universities also offer online classes – without tests – for pure educational enjoyment, some free of charge right now.

Stay in touch with family and friends via frequent phone calls – and eventually in-person visits when “the pause” is over. Some studies have shown that socially active people are less at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even better: Have conversations about things you don’t agree with, but only if it’s not stressful. It exposes your mind to new ways of thinking.

Keep your shopping list in your handbag and try to recall the items you need. Refer to it before heading to the checkout counter to see if you missed anything important.

Calculate numbers in your head or on paper first, then double check them with a calculator.

Explore mindfulness meditation. Many community classes and online lessons are now teaching this effective method to help improve your attention, focus, memory and empathy.

Try a new route. If you are running errands or on your daily commute, take an unfamiliar way to “reroute” your mind. It’s also enriching to see new neighborhoods.

Engage in a hobby. Everyone needs to do something outside of work to explore creativity and new ideas. Take up photography, scrapbooking, a new instrument, building models, needle crafts – there are many options!

As for electronic brain games on websites and apps, they can be fine if used in moderation. You don’t want to spend hours in front of a computer screen or staring at a smartphone, especially close to bedtime. If you already spend many long hours staring at a screen, select activities that take you away from the desk.