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Wiggle your eyes, save your memory: Simple tips for exercising the brain

Oct 12, 2011, 2:14 p.m.

We’ve all experienced that dreaded “huh?” moment. Whether it’s forgetting where we left the car keys, wondering why we walked into an empty room, or drawing a blank for our ATM pin, a temporary memory lapse can leave us fearing that we are just one more forgetful episode away from full-blown memory loss. Fortunately, not all is lost. Simple activities can strengthen the brain, form new neural pathways, and enhance memory-recall. Here’s how to boost brain activity.

Wiggle your eyes.

Moving your eyes rapidly from side to side can help enhance memory recall. Rapid movements stimulate the two hemispheres in your brain to efficiently communicate, working together to help you remember where a lost article is or why you walked into an empty room.

Break a sweat.

Working out is a natural way to stimulate the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory formation. According to scientific research, exercise also helps stimulate the generation of new brain cells. Hate the gym? Go dancing; coordinating body movements with music enhances brain activity, and breaking a sweat pumps more blood up to the brain.

Volunteer as a tutor.

Tutoring requires social and mental skills that invigorate the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for analyzing information, making plans and problem solving. Most importantly, you’re far more likely to retain information when you have to explain it to someone else.

Play mind games.

Whether it’s tackling the New York Times crossword puzzle, learning to play a musical instrument or battling your spouse in Scrabble, mind games give your brain a new challenge to overcome. Like a retired athlete, long after you graduate from school or retire from work, your brain still likes “rising to the challenge” of a mind game.

Meditate.

Stress floods the body with cortisol, sending our brains into a constant “fight or flight” state. Daily meditation reduces stress and enhances your ability to stay focused on basic tasks. While meditating, focus on the moment you are in—what sounds and smells do you notice? Can you feel the sun on your face? “Thinking” about thinking enhances your awareness and strengthens neural connections.

Map your to-do list.

Your brain works by building associations. Stimulate your creativity and imagination by creating a mind map. Write down your problem or an item from your “to-do” list in the middle of a piece of paper and draw branches out from the middle to different subcategories. This gives your mind the freedom to spread out in different directions while flexing your imagination, helping you to better understand your problem and create solutions.

Take a nap.

Catching up on your Zs lets your brain process and sort information. During the day, we’re bombarded with constant information and demands for attention. Taking a quick power nap in the middle of the day gives our brains the time to sort out information and file it away, enhancing memory recall and creating more space for new knowledge.

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