5 Brain Health Exercises in 5 Minutes or Less


Brain health is one of today’s hottest health topics. It seems everyone – from the young professional looking to get ahead, to the frazzled working parent juggling too many balls, to the baby boomer wanting to stay sharp, to the retiree aiming to live life to its fullest without memory loss getting in the way – wants to learn what they can do to maintain their intellectual vitality.

While the science of brain health remains young, the research clearly indicates that there is much we can do to boost our intellectual skills and potentially stave off serious memory loss. Yet the average person has little idea what exactly they can do. In fact, according to the AARP, while 95% of Boomers say that mental acuity is a top health concern, only 35% believe they have the resources necessary to stay mentally healthy.

Improving our brain fitness doesn’t have to be complex, expensive or even time-consuming. The best approach to building better brain health is one that reflects the current science and blueprints a plan that is practical and actionable. Often the science suggests activities that we don’t usually associate with brain fitness, such as staying socially active or getting regular exercise. In fact, there are plenty of things we can do to prime our mind while sitting right at our desks.

Here are five scientifically grounded, brain-smart things you can start doing right now to boost your brain power at work. You can do them in just a few minutes, or spend more time on them over the course of the day if your schedule allows:

1.  Jump Some Jacks. Here’s a tip that’s pretty basic, but packed with brain boosting power. Aerobic exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain, as it revs up our daily performance and reduces our long-term dementia risk. Jumping jacks are a simple callisthenic exercise you can do in a small space that will quickly get your blood pumping. So go ahead! Stand up at your desk and try out some jumping jacks for 5 minutes.

2.  Read a Poem. Reading poetry gets us to think out of our workday “box” and is a wonderful way to challenge yourself to think. Several studies have found that such regular intellectual engagement is associated with lower dementia risk over our lifetimes. Find a poem and spend 5 minutes reading and musing it over. Bring a book of favorite poetry to keep on your desk or visit the website of the Academy of American Poets at www.poets.org. You can even sign up for their “Poem a Day” program and get a poem sent to your inbox each day.

3.  Take a 5-Minute Yoga Break. This tip is all about bringing a little “ohm” into your life. Yoga is the perfect brain-health exercise. It supports aerobic workouts by building strength and stamina, trains our focus, and is a terrific resource for maintaining emotional balance. Try taking a 5-minute yoga break (or relaxation break if you are more inclined). The Kripalu Center offers a series of such breaks you can download to your computer or other media player on their website at www.kripalu.org.

4.  Doodle. Do you doodle? Many of us (including folks such as Bill Gates, former President Clinton and others) do. But did you know that doodling is good for your brain health? Recent research suggests that doodling helps us maintain focus and remember more effectively. A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that subjects assigned a doodling task performed 29% better than their non-doodling counterparts on a surprise memory test covering the material they were learning simultaneously. Doodling improves attention, making it more likely that you will acquire things that you later want to recall. So when you are in a meeting or on a conference call, go ahead and doodle — no need to apologize!

5. Learn How to Remember a Name. Here’s a smart tip we can all really use: Spend 5 minutes learning some simple memory strategies to boost your memory for names. For example, try repeating information as you hear it. This easy technique will force you to focus on what you are learning and give you the chance to rehearse it, increasing the odds that you’ll remember it. Or use my Connections Technique and make a connection between what you are learning and something that you already know. Meeting Florence? Connect her name to a famous Florence, such as Florence Nightingale, or to the city of Florence in Italy.

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