It's a win-win! These activities aren't just fun, they're also some of the best ways to grow gray matter, according to top brain doctors. (For example, dancing uses a bunch of brain systems, including planning, coordination, and judgment, while meditation has been shown to affect parts of the brain associated with learning and memory.)
Learn a musical instrument Study a foreign language Meditate or do yoga Play chess (or another challenging board game) Take a dance class Learn a complex skill, such as painting Take college-level or advanced courses Learn to juggle
Working out enhances production of the proteins that stimulate brain-cell growth and can help your neurons work optimally, says John J. Ratey, M.D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Try these:
Strength train for an hour three times a week. Keep at it, and it can help improve memory performance as you age, says a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Do high-intensity intervals or resistance training, which can spike levels of brain-healthy hormones, says Ratey. Do two 30-minute sessions a week.
Fuel Your Mental Muscle
Eggs contain choline, an essential nutrient that helps brain function.
Blueberries are high in epicatechin, which can help hone your focus.
Salmon has omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to promote brain health.
Mess with Your Head
Bulk up brainpower with neurobics, a system of mental drills that forces you to use your senses and stimulate your mind in unexpected ways. Some easy ones to try:
Use your nondominant hand to brush your teeth or write. Wear earplugs while doing different tasks. Turn photos on your desk upside down for an hour. Try navigating around your home with your eyes closed.
Robert Bjork, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles and an expert on learning and memory. In the soon-to-be-released book Brain Trust, by Garth Sundem, he shares his best brain-sharpening tricks.
"People tend to learn in blocks, mastering one thing before moving on to the next," says Bjork. A more effective way: a strategy known as interweaving. Say you want to improve your tennis game. Instead of spending an hour on your serve, mix in a range of drills, like backhands and footwork.
Studying in different environments helps your ability to recall the information later. Don't review your notes only in your office, for example: Read them on your couch, in bed, at a coffee shop, and so on. Or if you always study in the evening, try reviewing your notes first thing in the morning.
Whether you're mastering a new computer program or learning a foreign language, space your study sessions far enough apart so you can barely remember the info from the first session. "The more you have to work to pull it from the soup of your mind, the more your next study session will reinforce learning," says Bjork.