You probably already know what types of play can make our body stronger (sports, exercise, hiking, etc), but there are also types of play that can make your BRAIN stronger.
Like the muscles in your body, brain skills (cognitive skills) can be strengthened in a number of ways; by reorganizing neural pathways to process information faster and more efficiently, by creating new connections in the brain, and by helping the brain reroute information when there is neurological damage.
Best of all, your brain’s ability to adapt and grow can happen at ANY age! That’s because we now know that the brain is “plastic;” that is, capable of adapting and changing throughout life. So yes, that means that IQ (which is basically a measurement of cognitive skills, such as logic & reasoning, memory, attention, etc.) is never “set in stone.”
Now that you know what your brain is capable, of, let’s get to changing it! Put down those chips, step away from the couch and try this list of “smart” play on for size. We guarantee it’ll fit better than your skinny jeans!
- Do a jigsaw puzzle. The brain skills needed to assemble puzzles include visual processing, logic & reasoning, and attention. Want to strengthen processing speed? Bring in a stopwatch and try to beat your own time.
- Play an instrument. It’s been shown that there’s a strong correlation between music and grades; not surprising since music enhances language learning, spatial reasoning and attention. Learning to play an instrument – whether it’s through lessons, video instruction or a how-to book – can help you strengthen your cognitive skills at any age.
- Download some apps. Not all video games are created equal. There are lots of free applications that you can download to your smartphone to play brain-boosting games. Tetris, which has players slide, rotate and drop shaped pieces into place at a fast pace, works visual processing, planning and processing speed. Hangman requires you to use logic & reasoning, visual processing and segmenting.
- Do Sudoku or crosswords. Some of the best games to build cognitive skills are also some of the oldest. Buy a magazine of games, grab the Sunday paper or print off games from the Web.
- Play a board game. Help your entire family get smarter while having fun with any number of board games that strengthen cognitive skills. Among other things, “Clue” is great for logic & reasoning, “Battleship” and chess are great for planning and strategy and “Spectrangle” even builds math skills!
- Head Outside. A study of ADHD children found a link between “green time” and the severity of their symptoms. Playing outside in the presence of grass and trees (vs. indoors or in built environments) improved impulse control and concentration.
- Time yourself. Games or activities with the added pressure of a time limit can help strengthen processing speed. Simon, the classic battery operated game that produces sound and color patterns helps build almost all brain skills including auditory processing, memory, attention, visual processing and processing speed. You can also time yourself reading, dong math computation or speed stacking cups (check out www.speedstacks.com)
- Engage in the arts. Arts education researchers have found evidence to support positive relationships between arts and “smarts.” Whether it’s painting, sculpting, writing a play or putting on a musical, creative play ones brain skills. Need some specific examples? While art experiences develop writing skills, literacy and math/numbers skills, drama develops higher order language and literacy skills.
- Play cards with friends. In addition to the brain skills that come with engaging in games requiring strategy, math skills and planning, socialization plays an important role In maintaining your brain, especially later in life.
- Exercise. One of the best things for your body is also the best for your brain. Team sports, a family hike or a 30 minute brisk walk around the block have all been shown to improve learning and memory, largely due to improved oxygenation. So blow the dust off the treadmill and get started on the path to a smarter you. Because just as you can change your waistline at any age, you can also change your brain. Maybe those skinny jeans will fit after all!