10 Ways to Train Your Brain for Free or Cheap
Ok, so I’ve convinced you of the value of brain-training… but you just don’t think you can afford the software in this rough economy. That’s ok, there really are plenty of ways to keep your brain exercised on the cheap.
First, a few points to remember for cognitive workouts:
- It’s supposed to be hard. One of the risks of doing this on your own is that you’ll slack off, and go for the easy stuff. Rule of thumb… if it seems to comes too easily, pick something else.
- Step it up. To be really effective, the difficulty needs to increase as you go along. Every so often, step up the difficulty beyond what you think you can do. Then step back down, and note the improvement. It makes a noticable difference.
- Variety is key. Choose exercises that work a variety of different mental functions, or choose a variety of exercises at once. Don’t just pick one new hobby or exercise, vary them. Think of it as cross-training for the brain.
- Keep track of your efforts. I know, I know.. it’s a pain. But it provides motivation, allows you to hone in on the areas you need the most work in, and can help you spot any declines as they happen.
Got the Idea? Then here are a Few Options to Consider:
Juggling: There have been legitimate science studies that demonstrate learning to juggle can cause measurable changes in the brain. Juggling involves works out a variety of cognitive functions, including hand eye co-ordination, spatial relations, and balances use of both sides of the body (and therefore both sides of the brain.) Free Beginners guidance is available on the web, and there’s no cost barrier: you can ball up a few socks and start tossing them around for free. (be sure and check out You Tube for even more tutorials)
Suduko/Crosswords: Both games have been popularly touted as brain builders, and for good reason. But you still shouldn’t rely on just one type of puzzle/exercise for brain fitness.. remember that variety thing? Still, these classic games definitely work out the brain (even if it’s not a complete workout) and a combination of both math and word games would be better than either alone. Plenty of both types of puzzles are available on the web, and most offer a variety of difficulties. For an even more challenging task, try building your own puzzles – but no cheating and using a generator!
Origami: So far as I know, scientists haven’t picked up on the brain potential of Japanese paper folding.. but having done this since I was a child? Trust me… thinking in terms of "frog bases" and "mountain folds" WILL work out your brain in unique ways, and reading the diagrams can be very challenging. But lots of Instructions are available on the web (be sure and check YouTube, as well) and you can start out folding up some of that excess junk mail that seems to haunt our mailboxes these days.
Meditation: No, I don’t mean just zoning out, (although that has its benefits, too) and not some new age feel good contemplation, either. I’m talking about a formal, disciplined practice of the sort done by Buddhists, and also happens to be suitable for those in any religion, or none. Studies seem to show that this sort of meditation actually, really, changes the brain. WildMind.org is a great resource with a huge free area.
Learn a New Language: And don’t just consider the obvious and useful Spanish. Consider studying the language of your ancestors, an Indigenous language like Mingo, or even a simple programming language, like HTML. Immerse yourself not only in the words, but the thoughts and history behind the words – learn to *think* like a native speaker (or programmer!). There are free online sources for almost any language you can imagine.
Learn to Dance: Sure, just moving to the music is fun. But more formal dance styles train your mind and body in a whole different way, improving balance, coordination. It’s good physical AND mental exercise, and there are plenty of resources for almost any style on YouTube, plus free/cheap download videos available through Netflix, Amazon, and no doubt through iTunes (though I haven’t checked there).
Even if you’re physically limited (or just incredibly out of shape/uncoordinated) you can get some benefit from learn-to-dance videos – studies have shown that just watching and imagining yourself doing the moves stimulates the nerves and muscles imperceptibly and improves performance when the actual moves are tried.
Take a Music Appreciation Class: While the "Mozart Effect" has been over-hyped and mischaracterized by the media, there is some validity to the idea that music can stimulate the brain, especially when you listen to it with an understanding of what to listen to – separating out the different instruments, movements, rhythms and styles. Check out Sound Reasoning, a free online music appreciation course developed by Rice University
Learn to Play a Musical Instrument: Take it a step beyond "listening" and learn to create your own music. Alternatively, you might try your hand at using a free program like Audacity (which is excellent, by the way) to mix, layer and mash existing music clips. Either way, you’ll stimulate your mind in a whole different way.
Apply the Same Approach to Wine, or Art… Take an art appreciation course or wine tasting class; in addition to online versions they’re often available for free (or nearly so) through community adult education programs. Either one will educate and stimulate your senses of sight, taste and smell senses with a deeper awareness , and thhen you can ramp it up further by learning to brew your own wine or beer, and then draw or paint your finished product
Cultivate Challenging Hobbies: Scale model making, needlework, gardening, astronomy, journaling, golf, scrap booking, bird watching, blogging.. name a hobby, and it can probably help to stimulate your brain if you throw yourself into it with a will to learn. The key is to find something you enjoy, something that challenges you to learn more than just minimum required skills, uses a variety of mental functions and encourages you to be socially engaged with others. Most of those I’ve listed can be started with little or no investment, but I make no promises about the potential long term expense!
If the above options seem to require too much self motivation to suit you… you can always fall back on freeware and demo versions of brain-training programs. I’ll be collecting a list of them in another post – but they’re really just a stop gap measure. But at the least, perhaps the demos will convince you that the future health of your mind and brain is worth an investment of time, effort and money.
Keep in mind that none of these exercises alone will provide "complete brain fitness" — but then again, official brain training software alone won’t do that, either . Additionally, there’s no guarantee that one type of workout provides more benefits than another. Most likely, it’s all a very individual thing. Bottom line, cognitive workouts are just one part of brain fitness; brain exercises wont compensate for a poor diet, lack of exercise, social isolation, or sleep deprivation.
Still, keeping mentally active and challenged in a variety of ways *is* important, and any of the ideas listed above are a good start towards that goal.
So what do you think? Have any of your own ideas for challenging/creative mindtweaks on the cheap?