You know your brain is a muscle, right? The phrase “use it or lose it” quite literally applies here: just as you need to walk, stretch, and stand to keep your leg muscles well-oiled, so you need to challenge your brain to strengthen its cognitive reserve ( its ability to withstand neurological damage.) 

There are lots of exercises you can do for your brain, which we’re sure you’ve heard: learn a new language or instrument, take a cooking class, stand on one foot and count backward from 100 (okay, just kidding on that last one.) But brain exercise doesn’t have to involve complicated months-long lessons (though if you have the time, by all means try those!)

Try these easy activities that you can incorporate into your daily routine:

  1. Practice memorization. Make a list of something (grocery items, for example), and memorize it. An hour later, see how many items you can recall without looking at the list.
  2. Do math in your head. If that’s not challenging enough, try doing it while you walk.
  3. Create word pictures. Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of any other words that begin (or end) with the same two letters.
  4. Draw a map from memory. After you visit a new place, try to draw a map of the area and how you got there.
  5. Refine hand-eye coordination with hobbies that involve fine motor skills, like knitting, working on a puzzle, painting, etc.

Even simple tasks, and just 10 minutes a day, can help reduce your risk of neurological damage (which can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s) later in life. Even activities as simple as driving home via a different route, brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, or trying to sing your favorite song without hearing the music can work those brain muscles. So have at it: strengthen your brain! It will thank you later.