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Brain Workouts

Mehtab Ghazi Rahman

Have you ever sat down on a lazy Friday afternoon, sluggish and unmotivated, wishing you could do something to spark up your brain? Well, look no further, as this article will put your grey cells to action and hopefully revive you to make your mind more refreshed and active. Before we delve into a number of different brain workouts that we can do everyday to boost our brains, let us have a brief discussion about the brain and how we can improve it.

One way of getting mental exercise. Yuan Mengxin, 65, reads a book with his legs crossed around an iron pole in the People's Square in Wudi County, east China's Shandong Province. photo: www.people.com.cn

What is the secret to an active and efficient brain I hear you ask? Well, there is no secret really. The only way to do this is by using your brain and challenging it everyday with new tasks. This will keep you stimulated and sharpen your brain- power. The more you stimulate your brain, the better it becomes! Whether it is challenges at work or home, or solving puzzles such as Sudoku and Crosswords, any type of brain activity that requires you to think and apply your cognition keeps the brain toned and efficient. Different parts of the brain are involved with the processing of different things the brain has regions specialised for visual-spatial ability, perception, attention, numerical agility, memory, problem solving and language. Hence, to keep the brain working at its optimum, one needs to exercise each of these areas everyday to keep it in tip-top shape. This article will list a few exercises you can do to tone up each of these areas of the brain.

The human brain is said to be 'plastic' this means the brain changes and adapts with time, and is physically altered according to the experiences it has. The concept that old age causes brain cells to start dying has been proven to be factually wrong in recent studies. The brain is rather like a tree the more you use it, the more branches it grows and the bigger it gets; when you stop challenging yourself, you start losing the branches and your cognition deteriorates. No matter how young or old you are, keeping your brain active is key to having sharp memory and boosting your intelligence.

A recent study performed on London's black cab drivers have produced some surprising results. It has shown that, irrespective of age, the longer a driver spends doing their job, the better they get at it. Brain scans done in the study showed that black cab drivers had a bigger hippocampus (a part of the brain involved with navigation) than the average person because they were constantly using this part of the brain and challenging themselves everyday when driving along new routes or looking for shortcuts in London's roads. Another study shows that students who regularly do puzzles and play memory games in their spare time perform better in exams than those students who don't. This proves that, as long as you keep your brain active, not only will it function at its optimum level, it will actually become better! So if you keep stimulating the different regions of your brain everyday, you should never have to complain of poor memory or lack of motivation. Do remember that if we do not stimulate our minds often enough, our brains will weaken and physically diminish with time.

One of the best ways to keep your brain active is by doing puzzles such as crosswords and sudoku. Not only are they stimulating, they are fun and are refreshing for your brain. When you do a puzzle, the brain becomes stimulated and more blood flows to the cerebral hemispheres, perfusing your brain with oxygen and nutrition, while removing the carbon dioxide and other wastes. Puzzles increase your attention span, mental agility, creativity and energy. Just as going to the gym keeps your body fit, challenging yourself with fun games is what keeps your brain 'fit'. It is important to make a note here challenge your brain, but don't overstress it. If you are doing a hard puzzle and you cannot find a solution, don't get upset. The whole point is to 'challenge' yourself, and the more you do, the better you become. Attempt quizzes to stimulate your mind, not to determine how intelligent you are or to prove that you are more 'intelligent' than your friends and family.

The next time someone in your family complains of their 'brain failing them', see if you can help them sharpen their minds. Monotony and emotional lethargy are like poisons to the human brain. Encourage them to stimulate themselves, and challenge them with simple riddles, puzzles and mental arithmetic.

Here are some tips to help you stimulate your brain everyday:
1. Do physical exercise. It helps to deliver blood to your brain and keep it healthy.

2. Have a good set of friends whom you can have intellectual and social interactions with. Even gossiping with old friends stimulates the brain and keeps it active!

3. Learn new things everyday. Ask yourself why the sky is blue, learn to sew a button into a shirt, play a new computer game, watch the news, analyse current world affairs, draw, paint. Everything is fair, as long as it stimulates you.

Playing a game of chess can get the grey cells going. source: The internet

4. Learn to tackle stress. Stress is bad for your brain, heart and most other systems of your body.

5. Eat food that boosts brain activity, such as fruits, vegetables and oily fish. Reduce your intake of fatty red meat.

6. Think young. People who perceive themselves as being old are more likely to act old and miserable, and be sluggish. Think young, and you will feel and look young too!

Brain Exercises :
Sight and Memory : Observe an interesting object each day, and without looking, draw it in as much detail as possible from memory. Draw a new object each day of the week. At the end of the week, draw each of these objects again without looking, and see how much you can remember!

Taste : When eating dinner, take any one dish and try to elicit what spices have been used to cook it, and examine the subtle flavours (or the amount of salt used!). Ask the cook to verify your guess.

Hearing : Try to learn phone numbers of near and dear ones by asking someone to say it aloud to you and repeating it to yourself. Do not write it down, let your ears do the work.

Smell/Touch : Close your eyes and ask someone to hand you a random object. Guess what the object is. Make sure the object is not too simple or too obvious.

Language : Take two sentences from a newspaper or a magazine article. See if you can jumble up the words and make a new sentence with an entirely different meaning.

Logic : Play a game that requires logic, such as chess. If you don't like chess, play games like Monopoly or Criss Cross these are fun and test your logic well.

Verbal : Try to summarise your day in three sentences and say it aloud. As you get better over time, reduce it to two sentences, and then one.

(Mehtab Ghazi Rahman is a graduate of Human Bio-Medical Sciences from the University of London and is a finalist Student-Doctor at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, UoL)

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