By Sean Alexander

Cognitive exercises, or "brain training", is a term used to describe activities that are designed to improve cognitive function. This can include anything from mental math problems to crossword puzzles to learning new languages. The ultimate goal behind engaging in these types of activities is to improve your memory, problem-solving skills, focus, and more.

Most memory exercises can be separated into two categories: passive brain functions and active cognitive exercises. Active cognitive exercises, like bicycling, enable your brain to create new pathways and connections, and even stimulate physical changes in the brain. 

Conversely, passive activities, such as watching television, require no real effort and involve little challenge. As a result, there are no real physical changes that occur in the brain. A 2018 study shows how outdoor activities positively influence math performance, while sedentary activities can have the opposite effect on children. 

This is why it is so important to make sure that you are regularly challenging your cognitive abilities through the following brain exercises.

1. Mindfulness and Meditation Activities

Mindfulness is the practice of being completely present in the moment. This can be done through activities like yoga or meditation or by taking a few minutes every day to focus on your breath and your thoughts. The goal is to be aware of what is happening in the present moment without judging oneself or getting wrapped up in day-to-day issues.

When you are mindful, you are training your brain to focus on one thing at a time and dismiss distractions. This can be helpful in terms of improving short-term memory, as distractions can often lead to forgetfulness.

A few apps that can help you get started with mindfulness and meditation are:

  • Headspace: Offers meditation exercises that can be done anywhere.
  • Calm: Provides guided meditations, mindfulness exercises, and relaxation techniques.
  • Simple Habit: Focuses on helping individuals take 5-minute meditations each day to make a habit of being more mindful.

These apps offer a variety of guided exercises, as well as tips on how to continue practicing breathwork and meditation on your own.

2. Practice Mental Math

Another way to train your brain is by practicing mental math problems. This involves solving equations in your head without using a calculator or any other tools.

The goal is to improve your problem-solving skills and your ability to focus on one task at a time. From counting the cost of groceries to figuring out tips at a restaurant, mental math can come in handy in everyday life.

You can even perform active tasks like running or walking while doing these mental exercises. But if you would like to get more help with your math skills, you can get one-on-one help from skilled math tutors, who can help you improve your skills in a fun and challenging way. 

3. Cook Your Own Food

Cooking is another cognitive exercise that can be beneficial for your brain. This is because it involves learning new tasks and recipes, as well as using different parts of your brain.

It also helps improve focus, concentration, and attention span. Plus, it can be a great way to spend time with friends and family, and it's a skill that will come in handy for years to come.

A few creative ways you can learn how to improve brain function while cooking is through:

  • Blind taste-testing: Involves guessing the flavors of different foods.
  • Cooking with different spices: To improve your sense of smell.
  • Spice identification challenges: To help improve your sense of taste.

Not only are these activities entertaining, but they also train your brain to be more alert and focused.

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4. Tell Stories To Recall Details

You can also work to improve your short-term memory by telling stories about past events. This is when you recall as many details as possible about a specific event and then share it with someone else or note it in a journal.

You can also try to use the “four details” observation exercise to improve your storytelling skills. This simple exercise involves observing and describing at least four details about a specific object or person. For example, you can describe the color, shape, size, and texture of an object. Or you can describe the clothing, hair, eye color, and facial features of a person. The more details you can recall, the better.

This exercise is a great way to improve your ability to focus and to remember information over a short period, which can support critical thinking.

5. Become an Active Listener

Active listening is a skill that can be helpful in all aspects of life, from work to personal relationships. This skill requires giving your undivided attention to the person who is speaking and actively participating in the conversation. It also requires taking note of body language and facial expressions, while disregarding any distractions that may occupy your attention. 

Practicing repetition and asking engaging questions will also enhance your active listening skills. Doing so will ensure that you’re understanding the speaker correctly and making meaningful connections. 

Active listening can be a difficult skill to master, but with practice, it can be incredibly helpful in terms of improving communication, relationships, as well as studying complex subjects like math and physics

6. Play Games That Involve Critical Thinking as Memory Exercises

If you're looking for an enjoyable way to challenge your brain, consider playing puzzles and board games like chess. Research shows that games like chess can help improve math and reading test scores. This is why it's not surprising that many schools are now incorporating educational games into their curriculum.

The goal is to not only find games that are entertaining and challenging, but will also keep your mind active and engaged. So if you're looking for a fun way to boost your brainpower, consider playing some brain games.

7. Actively Engage With Music

Music is a powerful form of expression that can affect our moods, thoughts, and emotions. Beyond the emotional benefits, music also provides neurological benefits including improved memory, focus, and attention span. Plus, it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. 

Group music intervention, along with rhythmic exercises, may be helpful for cognitive and mental health function. So if you’re looking for a way to improve your brain power, consider using music as your tool. A few ways you can actively engage with music are:

  • Listening and singing along to music: will positively affect your mood and improve your memory recall. 
  • Learning to play an instrument: will help improve your focus and concentration.
  • Dancing to your favorite music: is a great way to improve your balance and coordination.

There are many different ways to enjoy music, and each person will have their preference. The key is to find the type of music that you enjoy and that will allow you to perform mental exercises. 

8. Stop Using Your Dominant Hand

While this may sound like a strange way to challenge your brain, using your non-dominant hand for daily routines is a great way to improve your cognitive skills. So if you're right-handed, try using your left hand for activities such as writing, brushing your teeth, and cooking.

It can be a challenging task, but it's a great way to improve your brainpower and challenge your coordination and dexterity. 

9. Mix Up Your Routine

If you're looking for a way to challenge your brain, try mixing up your routine. This can involve doing things that you wouldn't normally do, such as trying new food, taking a different route to work, or learning a new language.

Trying out new active sports can also be mentally stimulating. Try particularly mentally challenging sports such as:  

  • Martial Arts: To improve focus, discipline, and coordination.
  • Gymnastics: To improve balance, coordination, and body awareness. 
  • Tennis: To improve hand-eye coordination, focus, and problem-solving skills.

These are just a few examples, but the key is to find an activity that is enjoyable and mentally stimulating for you.

10. Take a Break

It's important to take a break from time to time and just relax. When you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a few minutes to yourself to relax and rejuvenate. This can involve doing something calming, such as reading, listening to music, or taking a walk. This can help improve focus, attention span, and problem-solving skills.

Remember, it's important to find a balance between work and relaxation, so make sure you take some time for yourself every day. A few ways you can use breaks to improve your brain power are:

  • Breaks between tasks: will help improve focus and attention span.
  • Taking a break after studying: can help improve memory recall.
  • A quick break for 10-15 minutes: can help refresh your mind and increase productivity.

If you're looking for a way to improve your memory and concentration, start by using some of these exercises. They may seem challenging at first, or even a tad odd if you’re used to a specific routine, but with some time and practice, you'll be able to improve your cognitive skills in no time.


  • Sean Alexander

    COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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