Looking for brain exercises to improve your memory?
You’re in the right place!
On this page, you’ll discover:
- Exercises using your mind only
- Exercises that combine your mind and body
- Exercises that work with your thoughts and feelings
- Exercises that work with your sleep
But before we get started, this distinction matters for all mature learners who want to unlock mental adventures and experience better memory, focus and concentration:
The Important Difference Between Brain Exercises
For Memory Improvement And “Neurobics”
It’s common knowledge that there are many benefits of exercise on the body, but brain exercises to improve memory is all too often overlooked.
Sad, but true.
In our regular routines of cardio Mondays, weightlifting Tuesdays, and, yes, even the dreaded “leg day” – the most important muscle to target is sometimes overlooked, our brain!
In their book, Keep Your Brain Alive, Dr. Lawrence C. Katz and Manning Rubin coined an altogether appropriate term for this mental workout, neurobics.
Catchy term, right?
The authors make the case for brain exercises in everyday life.
It really can be as simple as stepping out of our routines to create a gymnasium of sorts for your brain so you get a regular mental workout.
Exercises to improve memory and concentration produce these results because:
“Different, underused nerve pathways and connections get activated. The result is the production of a kind of natural brain fertilizer that strengthens nerve connections and helps them and your nerve cell receivers stay younger and stronger.”
In our modern world, with its fascination with the “fountain of youth” isn’t that something we all want?
But there’s a huge difference we need to consider:
Neurobics does not always exercise your memory because these exercises rarely directly involve your memory.
But if we want to see continual growth and stability for life when it comes to memory, we need to include memory in our fitness regime.
Brain Exercise Games You Should Play Every Day
Now it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the mere mention of brain exercises.
After all, a simple online query in your favorite search engine will return seemingly endless choices for brain exercise apps.
You might even breath a sigh of defeat (gasp!) trying to decide which one is best and simply give up on the thought of brain exercise all together….
But what if I told you the answer was simple?
What if the solution to how to make your brain sharp naturally is not a $3.99 app in the Google Play store?
What if all the tools you needed to make your brain work faster is already in your possession?
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Good news…for once it’s not.
The Zen Of “Game Theory” To Guide Your Brain Exercise Efforts
I know you may be asking “Why do we need theory in the first place?”
Theory matters because we need something that leads us to practice.
Then, our practice with memory training leads us to theory that improves our practice.
In short, the game theory that underlies true memory improvement is cyclical.
That’s not the whole story, either:
Your brain development is not something you should approach haphazardly. Each of us must ask ourselves these questions to discover our “ideal brain workout”:
- How do we play brain games that get results?
- How do we know what those games are?
- How do we play only those games that we will cheerfully play, that we enjoy, and that we want to play again, and again, and again?
That’s game theory in a nutshell.
How To Pick The Right Brain Exercises For Maximum Memory Improvement
With the New Year approaching it’s easy to let our mind wander to the idea of New Years’ resolutions. It’s a time when gym membership numbers skyrocket and the billion dollar industry of sports and fitness apparel clothing has its time to shine.
The no. 1 resolution, year after year, is to stay fit and healthy, whether that means losing weight or eating cleaner.
The sad fact is that approximately 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. What is the key to success for that remaining 20 percent?
Why are they still putting in work in at the gym come March when attendance has dwindled for spin class and CrossFit?
They only do the workouts they enjoy.
Let that sink in.
Let that resonate.
Those that stick to their goals are not the ones that trudge through a 3-mile run daily if they hate it. They don’t suffer through the latest trendy group class twice a week because it doesn’t bring them joy.
To achieve their fitness goals they start with an activity that interests them, trusting the process to find what they love.
Applying this same principle, you too can find the neurobic exercise you enjoy, not just for enjoyment’s sake, but one that works, that you see results from, which keep you motivated and cheerful in your practice.
Where You’ll Find The Best Advantages
From Memory Improvement Brain Exercises
The greatest advantage we can give ourselves when it comes to brain exercise games is to, whenever possible, create games from the information you’re learning.
In other words, information that you’re already seeking to commit to memory.
This is information that matters to you, that you’re already invested in, that is practical and applicable to your life.
Think back to the narrative about going to the gym, or even just a physical exercise plan in general.
This is the greatest example of starting with an activity that interests you. You are building upon a foundation that already exists. You are setting yourself up for success by playing to your strengths.
1. Fun Brain Exercises Using The Alphabet
For example, the alphabet learned at an early age, as well as basic addition and subtraction can be used as powerful brain exercises.
This foundation of general knowledge, so engrained, can be used as a basis for a brain game.
Try to recite the alphabet backwards in another language, or forwards-backwards by saying A, Z, B, Y, etc.
2. Amazing Brain Exercises Using Numbers
Use “math facts” to your advantage.
Think of a number important to you and decide on a pattern to work with that number, say add four, minus five.
If your anniversary is July 22nd (722) and you have a 9-year-old child (4 and 5), you could use this number and pattern to recite 722, 726, 721, 725, 720.
You are using information that is already in your knowledge-base to challenge your thinking.
Time Out! Maximize Your Mental Fitness By Managing The Challenge-Frustration Curve
As you complete this exercise, or any others, work to find a balance on the challenge-frustration curve.
Think of a total body workout.
If you wanted build muscle a key component of your routine would be weightlifting, right? Too little resistance and you wouldn’t achieve growth, but adding too much to a free-weights system would only lead to frustration (and a barbell never making it off the ground).
For optimal results you would gradually add to your total, a few pounds at a time, to constantly challenge yourself.
The same idea applies to building on the knowledge you already have.
If you’re no longer challenged using an addition and subtraction pattern try addition and multiplication.
If the alphabet backwards is no longer a challenge, try recitation in English and another language, switching with each letter in succession.
Try larger numbers for your mental rotation.
Use historical dates (birthdates or inauguration dates of Presidents, publish dates of pieces by your favorite composers, etc.). These larger, four-digit numbers are a challenge to build upon.
Go beyond the elementary school basics and create a real-world gymnasium for even more of a challenge.
Instead of suffering through a mindless morning commute, use your drive into work to memorize license plates.
Use these random sequences of letters and numbers as a jumping off point for the alphabet and summation exercises we just discussed.
3. How To Increase Mental Fitness By
Using Popular Culture In Your Brain Games
Even sources of entertainment can be used as brain exercise.
Take a favorite actor or director and see if you can list their filmography either in historical order or reverse historical order.
Then take it a step further:
See if you can list all the actors in your favorite film.
You’ll easily create connections, or a web of sorts, of actors, directors, and movies. From a casual observer to a movie buff, this “celebrity cultivation” exercise is a great activity for any level.
4. Powerful Brain Games With Language For More Exciting Challenges
Building upon the alphabet to increase the level of challenge, try suppression or skipping.
For example, think of A, skip B, think about C, skip D forwards, then go backwards, with Z, skip Y, X, skip W, and so on. The patterns for skipping around are endless just for the alphabet.
Move on to whole words next.
If you don’t want to work with the language you’re learning, take your list of celebrities you cultivated earlier.
Instead of simply naming Angelina Jolie as a favorite actress try spelling her name with suppression. A, skip N, G skip E, and do the opposite for her last name:
Skip J, O, skip L, etc.
You can use this method for a database of historical figures if history is your concentration, medical terms, elements of the periodic table, or even just to memorize the names of your colleagues at a new job.
5. Brain Games with Foods That Improve Memory
Ask any fitness expert and they will agree that exercise alone is not going to cut it if one is trying to shed extra pounds.
There is a golden rule that weight loss is approximately 20 percent exercise and a whopping 80 percent diet. Weight loss happens with a caloric deficit, meaning more calories are burned than consumed. Basically food is the key element to healthy living.
Diet and exercise work as a team to achieve overall health, so naturally brain games involving food are a great way to work out your mind. These games might even be better than vitamins for memory improvement you’ve heard about on advertisements.
So the next time you head out to the grocery store, add these mental exercises to the physical fitness you’ll be getting while on the road.
Memorize the ingredients to a favorite recipe, equivalencies in baking (3 teaspoons are equal to a tablespoon), or try to imagine the result of a flawed recipe by using suppression or skipping to purposefully overlook an ingredient.
Imagine omitting baking powder from a pancake recipe or eggs from a cake. Visualize the results.
Then, take the healthy approach and try “brain active” foods.
Mentally calculate the amount of baby carrots you could eat to equal a serving of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, or the cups of baby spinach to amount to the calories in a serving of New York style cheesecake.
6. Get Your Mouth Into The Physical Exercise For Brain Boosts
Make a game of memorizing your shopping list in another language. Even pig latin will do.
Or if you must do it in your mother tongue, try this instead of rote learning the list:
Commit to memory that you need milk, eggs, and bread, by reversing the letters of each word. Recite that you need K-L-I-M, S-G-G-E, and D-A-E-R-B.
After spelling and pronouncing your list backward, practice the same list using the skipping/suppression exercise to spell your items.
7. Physical Brain Exercises That Improve Concentration
I learned the metronome exercise from Matthew Clark at York University. It is a great exercise to improve concentration with minimal equipment.
By using either a physical metronome or any of the widely available apps for smartphones try to synchronize your claps or snaps with the beat, then gradually slow the beat down, increasing the distance between claps or snaps.
By mixing both a mental exercise with a physical action this will increase your concentration over time. For an even greater challenge, once you’ve mastered this, try the same exercise with your eyes closed.
8. The Four Details Exercise
If you want to incorporate elements outside yourself, try the four details game I learned from memory expert Dr. Gary Small. When you are introduced to someone new try to memorize four details about them.
This could be their eye color, what color shirt they were wearing, or hair color. When you recall their name, recall these details.
You can add even more of a challenge to this passive exercise (simply noticing details about someone) by making these details magnetic.
For example, if your new acquaintance has a red jacket, you can associate a mnemonic, magnetic image to that red jacket.
Or, if your Magnetic image of red is an apple, you can associate Amy’s red jacket to apples.
Finally, build upon the celebrity list you learned about earlier.
Take one of the films you named and try to recall the movie’s plot points in order. How many times have you tried to tell a friend about a great movie you watched the weekend before, only to find that a lot of the details were fuzzy.
You could remember the beginning that pulled you in and grabbed your attention and the action packed finale that left you clamoring for a sequel, but everything in the middle wasn’t so clear.
Instead of shutting your brain off the next time you turn on Netflix, try, instead, to keep yourself engaged so that you can recall the entire film. It’s a great way to satisfy the need for entertainment while giving your brain a workout.
9. Yoga For Mental Sharpness:
The Ultimate Physical Brain Exercise
Incorporating a physical practice, just like the metronome exercise is a fantastic way to increase the power of your memory.
If you already have a practice in place, you can use as few as three poses and flow between the movements, using your flow to rehearse memorized content.
If you are new to yoga you can learn a few simple, beginner poses followed by an easy way to shift between them.
After finding what works for your body, balance, and skill level, combine the sequence of movements with reciting information that you have committed to memory.
To build on this idea, if you want to take your yoga practice off the mat, or if you find yourself frustrated with your physical yoga practice, you can shift into the more mental practice of karma yoga.
The purpose of this practice is to humble your ego, serve your community, and causes you to become part of something bigger.
You are acting selflessly in service to others, doing good things for others with no expectation of anything in return.
You are putting a selfless action out into the world with no expectation of return. Letting go of the outcome, by sampling taking action because it is the right thing to do.
10. Why Karma Yoga Is The Ultimate Brain Exercise
How does this kind of yoga count as brain exercise?
The answer is simple:
You are constantly reminding yourself, keeping yourself in check, that once you have set an action out into the world it is no longer yours to control.
This consistent reminder to one’s self, in itself, is an exercise in staying present, building concentration through self-awareness.
Think back to your childhood.
If you were anything like me you loved Super Mario.
Was there that one level that you just couldn’t seem to get past? Whether it was being eaten by a piranha plant or missing a jump, you would get frustrated if you ever got stuck, right? It’s a natural reaction…but it doesn’t have to be that way.
A great mental exercise would be to revisit those sometimes tantrum-inducing games as adults. What if you could play simply for the sake of enjoyment?
What if you could laugh off constant defeat by the goombas a koopa troopas and just have fun? What’s stopping you from finding joy just in the action of play? Absolutely nothing but your own mind.
You can enjoy the journey, powering your way through the levels, with a karma yoga mindset, letting go of the expectation of saving Princess Peach, and simply playing the game.
Over time, you’ll find with the act of letting go the levels pass easier, because your practice will be enjoyable and your skills will then improve.
With reevaluation and consistent review of your mindset to one of karma yoga practice, concentration is less forced, and thereby memory improved, because your focus is shifted.
Karma yoga concentrates the mind, crumbles bad memories, makes life a bright and shiny game, and creates a wonderful treasure-trove of memories, all through a shift in mindset.
11. The Brain Game of Bhakti Yoga
To take mental yoga even further, another branch of yoga, bhakti yoga, is a practice of “love for love’s sake,” or “union through love and devotion.”
Simply put, bhakti yoga is a practice of devotion, in its broadest sense.
This word can be interpreted in many ways, with the idea of devotion being such a general term, but it goes effortlessly hand-in-hand with memory palaces.
By physically visiting inspiration for memory palaces, such as a childhood home (even if yours was a turbulent one), practicing forgiveness in order to build a memory palace from a place that perhaps heartbreak resided is a powerful manifestation of bhakti yoga.
Committing to a life of love, with receiving nothing in return – incorporating the karma yoga ideals is a mental exercise, again, to constantly evaluate your thoughts, and therefore shapes your actions.
You can also turn this practice inward, through devotion towards self-inquiry.
We must all constantly look inward, examining our own thoughts in order to have a mindset of karma, or mindset of love.
Instead of passively having thoughts, or being passive, letting those thoughts control us, we must constantly examine our thoughts, asking ourselves:
- “How do my thoughts behave?”
- “Are they useful?”
- “Just how real are my thoughts?”
For more information on questions like these, please read Evolving Beyond Thought by Gary Weber. It is excellent and the source of these questions.
With this devotion to self, a devotion to the health of our own thoughts, developing a concentration, an active mental state this will prime our brains for memory growth.
And like many of the other exercises, you can perform these self-inquiry questions while on a walking meditation.
12. Magnetic Dream Recall as Brain Exercise
Finally, training does not have to be limited to our waking hours. With a few simple techniques all 24 hours of our day can be productive, and we can exercise our brains in a dream state.
First start with the concept of lucid dreaming. In order to utilize your dream state, you must realize you are, in fact, dreaming.
A practical way to know if you are dreaming or awake is to draw a symbol on your hand (a star, heart, smiley face, etc.) with a permanent marker. You will know that you are awake if you look down and see your symbol. If it isn’t on your hand, it is likely you are asleep.
By knowing you are in dream state, you can sort through alternate realities you perhaps have created for yourself, or are punishing yourself for.
You can separate fantasy from reality, and understand what a healthy reality is subconsciously, so that your waking life is no longer filled with suffering-inducing expectations caused by a dream state.
Practically, you will also be able to practice your autobiographic, episodic, and figural memory. If you incorporate dream journaling and autobiographical (the events of your day) journaling into a daily mindfulness practice you will be able to not only remember more of your dreams, but remember more of your waking life. Over time your memory will improve by focusing on its improvement, setting a goal of improving it.
Final Thoughts On Keeping Your Brain Well Exercised And Your First Steps
All of these techniques are beneficial to memory improvement, and will improve your concentration through disciplined practice, incorporating neurobics into your everyday life, however, you cannot improve if you don’t know where to start.
If you have no idea of where you are with your memory health, you cannot take the steps to make it better.
Join me now to begin the journey of self-awareness and the first step to better brain health.