6 Ways to Exercise the Mind

Mental wellbeing is moving to the top of the health agenda. It has been widely acknowledged for quite some time that we don’t need to look after just our bodies but also our minds. Too many of us spend our time vegetating in front of the TV or indulging in listless and witless pursuits. This is seriously remiss. It’s thanks to medical science that we now live so much longer than even only a few decades ago, but if we don’t make sure that our brains are kept fit, they will fail us while the rest of our physical being sails on without a fully alert pilot at the wheel. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities you can do to keep the mind in good shape. Many of them are simple, quite a few are fun, and most of them are cheap.


Yes, books. Or good quality magazines. Either would be fine. It could be fiction or nonfiction. You don’t have to curl up with a copy of War and Peace, but it should perhaps be a book that is up with your reading age and has a degree of substance – read reviews maybe to find something suitable. Don’t forget that the choice is enormous. Remember, too, that while there are public libraries, reading doesn’t have to cost the earth. If, however, you simply must own that book, there are thrift stores stacked with decent reads, and online retailers with bargains galore. Take your time, choose what suits you best, and retire to the couch for as long as you like.

Test Your Recall

Perhaps you played Kim’s Game when you were a Boy or Girl Scout. Remember? A number of items were placed on a tray, and you and the rest of the troop had, say, a minute to commit them to memory. Then a cloth was placed over them and everyone wrote down as many of the objects as he or she could recall. The winner was the one who remembered the most. Simple. So effective a way of keeping your brain on its toes, it shouldn’t be a game you ever feel too old to play.

Create your own version: Write out a shopping list, put it away in a drawer, and after an hour or so, try to remember everything you put down. No peeking. Create other lists and see if your powers of recall work regardless of what you’re trying to remember. This is easy and free and can occupy your mind while taking a bath, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn.

Puzzles and Games

The classic crossword, especially those with the fiendish cryptic clues, has to be good for the brain. Sudoku also helps to keep those little gray cells humming. Chess – whether a solid board between you and your partner, or online against invisible foes, or one of the many mind-boggling puzzles that infect the newspapers, magazines and the net – is great food for the mind. By all accounts, you don’t even need to be any good at the game for it to exercise the intellect. What matters is that you engage the brain. It may be that you find that the more you play, the more you improve. In which case, you could be on the road to a degree of mental health you’ve not enjoyed for quite a while. Backgammon, anyone?

Learn a Language

Studying a second language is a highly recommended mental gym that uses oodles of thinking capacity. Absorbing new words and tackling new language rules can expand the intellect, improve problem-solving, and sharpen and enhance the memory. Not only that, but being proficient in more than one language has been shown to lead to a healthier mental condition in old age and delay possible dementia.

Language learning can, it seems, keep the brain fully functioning for longer. It’s probably a good idea, though, to forget how much a drag it was at school getting a handle on all those irregular German verbs. It absolutely doesn’t have to be like that. What’s offered by the likes of Talk in French, for example, is the kind of approach to second language learning that could make you forget the tedium of the classroom.

Take up a Musical Instrument

Loads of evidence suggests that learning something that is both complex and new is great exercise for the aging mind. Perhaps you could choose an instrument that is not likely to tax you overmuch, and one that won’t upset the neighbors. Either way, the processes involved in reading music, playing the instrument, and reproducing tunes will all do wonders for your brain as well as satisfy your aesthetic sensibilities. It doesn’t even need to be an instrument: Why not join a choir? Maybe, like with the chess, you’ll discover a talent that you never even knew you had.


That’s right, physical exercise. Without a regular supply of oxygen, your brain can’t hope to function at its peak. Any form of exercise, from swimming to tai chi, as long as it doesn’t put you in danger, has got to be good for mind, body, and even the soul. In addition, it should never be forgotten that without a decent diet to accompany a regular workout, you may be negating some of the positives. Bear in mind, too, that while pretty much any kind of physical activity is good for you, the daily stroll to the mailbox might need to be supplemented with something a little more vigorous if you are to feel the benefit. If golf is your bag, don’t use a cart.

Something like two thousand years ago, Juvenal, the Latin poet, suggested that the best thing to hope for in life was mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body. It would be a very big mistake not to pay at least some heed to such a necessary wish made so conspicuous by its simple wisdom. Look after your body and, in turn, it will look after your mind and vice versa.

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