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11 Exercises You Didn't Know Can Sharpen Your Mind

Stick and Ladle

Giving your brain new experiences will keep it healthier. Try these to sharpen your mind.

#1 Use your non-dominant hand when brushing your  teeth

Research has shown that using the opposite side of your brain (as in this exercise) can result in a rapid and substantial expansion of in the parts of the cortex that control and process tactile information from the hand. 

Brain exercise: Brush, and don’t forget to open the tube and apply toothpaste in reverse, too. 

#2 Literally turn objects upside down 

When you look at things right-side up, your left “verbal” brain quickly labels it and diverts your attention elsewhere. When they’re upside down, your right brain networks kick in, trying to interpret the shapes, colors, and relationships of a puzzling picture. 

Brain exercise: Turn pictures of your family, your desk clock, or an illustrated calendar upside down.

#3 Switch seats at the table

In most families, everyone has his or her “own” seat, but your brain benefits from new experiences. 

Brain exercise: Switch seats to change whose position you occupy, who you relate to, your view of the room, and even how you reach for salt and pepper. 

#4 Play with coins

Because our brains regularly rely on visual cues to distinguish between objects, using touch to identify subtly different things increases activation in cortical areas that process tactile information and leads to stronger synapses. (Similarly, adults who lose their sight learn to distinguish Braille letters because their brain devotes more pathways to processing fine touch.) 

Brain exercise: Place a cup full of coins in your car’s drink holder. While at a stoplight, try to determine the denominations by feel alone. You can also put coins in your pocket, and identify them when you stop at a corner. 

#5 Close your eyes when showering

Your hands will probably notice varied textures of your own body you don’t “see,” and will send messages back to your brain. 

Brain exercise: Try using just your tactile senses (although, use common sense to avoid burn or injury). Locate the taps solely by feel, and adjust the temperature. Then wash, shave, and so on with your eyes shut.

#6 Eat food you're not familiar with

Your olfactory system can distinguish millions of odors by activating unique combinations of receptors in your nose. There’s a direct link to the emotional center of your brain, so new odors may evoke unexpected feelings and associations. 

Brain exercise: Choose a cuisine unfamiliar to you, and browse the variety of novel vegetables, seasonings, and packaged goods.

 

#7 Smell different scents

You probably don’t remember when you “learned” to associate the smell of coffee with the start of a day. However, by linking a new odor—say, vanilla, citrus, or peppermint—to an activity, you’ll alert new neural pathways. 

Brain exercise: Keep an extract of your favorite scent near your bed for a week. Open it and inhale when you first wake up, and then again as you bathe and dress.

 

#8 Open the car window

The hippocampus, an area of your brain that processes memories, is especially involved in associating odors, sounds, and sights to construct mental maps. 

Brain exercise: Try to identify new smells and sounds on your route. Opening the windows provides these circuits with more raw material.

#9 Play the “10 Things” game

Forcing your brain to think of alternates to the everyday will help keep it strong. 

Brain exercise: Someone hands you an ordinary object, and you must demonstrate 10 different “things” that the object might be. Example: A fly swatter might be a tennis racket, a golf club, a fan, a baton, a drumstick, a violin, a shovel, a microphone, a baseball bat, or a canoe paddle.

 

#10 Scan at the grocery store

Stores are designed to have the most profitable items at eye level, and when you shop you don’t really see everything there. Brain exercise: Stop in any aisle and look at the shelves, top to bottom. If there’s something you’ve never seen before, pick it up, read the ingredients, and think about it. You don’t have to buy it to benefit; you’ve broken your routine and experienced something new.

 

#11 Read aloud with your friend

When we read aloud or listen to reading, we use very different brain circuits than when we read silently to ourselves. Brain exercise: Read aloud with your partner or a friend, alternating roles of reader and listener. It may be slow to get through a book, but as a bonus you’ll spend quality time together.