There are plenty of things you can do to exercise your brain on a regular basis; just mixing up your sensory experiences several times a week is a great start. Here are some three things you should know:
1. Heels can give you more than just a confidence boost.
Walking is a routine, mundane activity for most people. You put on your tennis shoes and stroll in the park or down the street. You know how the pavement feels, how to stride correctly, and what to expect. Mix it up. Switch to a round-bottom tennis shoe once a week or swap tennies for sandals when walking for exercise. Never wear heels? Grab a pair and just walk around your house. Going up and down the stairs in shoes you are not used to forces you to pay more attention to coordination and gets those synapses firing.
2. The ol’ right-to-left (or left-to-right) handoff is a real thing.
Ever had to curl or brush your hair with the opposite hand than you’re used to? Were you frustrated? Good. “Anything that makes the brain work harder or that is frustrating is a good thing,” says Schwartz. Regularly change your hands when using your toothbrush, hairbrush, blow dryer, or curling iron. The brain becomes conditioned to routine activities, and using your nontraditional hand makes new synapses fire to detect the way a device feels and figure out how to manipulate it correctly. “Forcing myself to do a manual task a new way helped clear my mental fog.”
3. And so is sensory deprivation.
Many species lacking in keen eyesight excel at detecting prey through sound or smell. During the course of the day, you often rely heavily on the same sense again and again for regular tasks. Try blindfolding yourself and then identifying foods from smell alone. Using this sensory deprivation technique forces parts of the brain to work harder. Think about getting dressed blindfolded: Could you put together an outfit based on what your clothes feel like? Does your favorite sweater have a unique texture that could help you identify it without seeing it? According to Schwartz, “there are different regions of your brain devoted to each sense. When you shift your brain resources to that other sense not usually associated with the task, you force it to work in a challenging way, forming new associations.”