For anyone who has had to search their minds for a word or a detail (all of us!), It may be surprising to hear that, according to brain health experts, memory isn’t everything. So why is this the first or the only thing that concerns us?

“People don’t really care how well they perform on certain mental tests,” says Gary Small, MD, chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center, chief medical officer of behavioral health at Hackensack Meridian Health, and author of The Memory Bible. “They want to remember their grocery list. When they walk down the street and see someone they know, they want to remember that person’s name so they don’t have to say, “Hey, uh, how are you? And I can say, “Hi, Mary, how are you?” “

But remembering is much more complicated than plucking a name in your brain or knowing that you are low on milk. Recalling a friend’s name, for example, is also tied to your brain’s processing speed, your ability to focus, and a host of other factors you can improve on. But you will have to put in some effort.

What is brain training?

In the field of cognitive rehabilitation, which is generally aimed at people who have suffered a stroke or head trauma, there are two types of strategies used to improve cognitive skills: compensatory and restorative. And they can work for the rest of us too.

Compensatory strategies are workarounds that help you complete tasks, such as a crutch that might help you walk if you had a broken leg. Think about that song you sang to memorize presidents, or how you imagined a fire hydrant with a balloon attached to help you remember that the periodic table begins with hydrogen and helium. It is a habit to always put your car keys on a hook near the door or, when you meet a new person, to repeat their name to improve memory.

What To Expect When Planning For Brain Gains? “What is realistic depends on what people are prepared to do,” says Dr Small. Brain training isn’t just fun and fun (although, admittedly, it’s part of it!). To some extent, just like with diet and exercise, you get what you put into it.

Commit to exercising.

There is no debate: exercise is good for the body and the brain. “We have really strong evidence that exercise can help you grow more brain cells, increase the number of connections and pathways in your brain, and create more nerve growth factors, which are like Miracle-Gro for your brain cells,” says Dr. All.

A scientific review from the University of Illinois used magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate a benefit of yoga: Regular yoga practice produced increased volume in the hippocampus (a part of the brain involved in memory) and a larger prefrontal cortex (which is essential for planning).

Challenge yourself to learn new things.

You may have heard this and thought it meant you had to learn to play the guitar or download Duolingo and learn Mandarin. Sure, those things would definitely sharpen your brain (learning a new language increases your gray matter, which is tied to memory and attention, for example), but you can forgo lesson three if you’re overwhelmed.

“The idea is to train your brain, not force it,” Dr. Small says of whatever brain development activity you choose to do. “Each of us needs to find that entry point so that the new activities we choose are interesting and we are motivated to do better.”

That could mean bringing novelty and variety to your favorite activity, for example swapping your daily crossword for a Sudoku puzzle a few days a week. If you like to paint, try a freehand drawing class. You are stepping into something new by building on something you enjoy. Presenting a challenge helps your brain create new pathways rather than repeatedly activating old ones, experts say.

Do something meditative and mindful.

You will never remember the name of the person you just met or the five things your partner asked you to buy at the store if you can’t focus on those things. Fortunately, a 7,000-year practice can help sharpen your attention in less time than you probably spend searching for something you’ve lost. Research has shown that even brief bouts of mindfulness meditation can have instant benefits. In a small study, beginners to the practice spent 10 minutes listening to an audio-guided mindfulness meditation and saw an immediate increase in their attention, accuracy, and reaction times on a task performed afterward, compared to a control group.

Be more social.

“Once we have overcome the financial and physical impact of the pandemic, the most lasting negative consequence will be its impact on mental health,” says Adam Gazzaley, MD, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Neuroscape, in the center. . neuroscience. from the University of California, San Francisco, which focuses on the intersection of technology and brain health.

It’s not just that isolation carries an increased risk of cognitive decline; Socializing is great for your brain because it is another way to learn new things.

Try to play

Brain training games are a multi-billion dollar industry that has exploded in the past year, thanks to the need for e-learning fueled by the pandemic. If you’ve ever wondered if the apps you see advertised on your Facebook feed are worth it, you should know that the answer is solid … maybe.

Also, different games have different brain gain goals. Some are slow and strategic with the goal of improving your thinking skills, while others are action-packed with the goal of speeding up your processing.