Being Well

How to Exercise Your Brain: Simple Games to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Are you wondering how to exercise your brain? Try a listing game you can do anywhere!

You hit the gym a few times per week, drink water and try to eat more vegetables than sweets. Taking care of your body is important, but are you forgetting an important part of your wellness plan? Knowing how to exercise your brain can keep your mind sharp, and even possibly postpone symptoms of dementia or help with chemo brain or memory loss. Here are some brain games that will keep you on your toes.


If you’re a journal writer or a notetaker, making lists likely already comes naturally to you. In fact, making to-do lists has been shown to make a more organized — and less cluttered — brain, according to Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Listing can also be a fun game that will work multiple areas of your brain, including word retrieval and creativity.

Listing can be done with or without writing it down, and you can do it alone or with others. In fact, it’s a great game to play with your family on long car rides or when you’re waiting in line. Simply keep fun categories on hand, either on your phone or written down, and start listing things that fit in.

For example, try naming all the foods you can that are yellow. Or, think of as many names of girls you went to high school with. List animals that begin with the letter S or pizza toppings. You will love how easy this game starts out, and your brain will love the challenge as you continue listing past the easy answers.

Crossing the Midline

Crossing your midline is a crucial developmental milestone that most people reach in childhood. When you cross your midline, you’re moving one body part over to the other side of your body (for instance, when you cross your legs or when you twist your body). This act of using your brain as two parts that work together, and not one part at a time, can help with reading, memory and coordination. However, according to a study published in The Journals of Gerontology, those milestone gains that happen in childhood can be reversed in older adulthood.

You can cross your midline throughout the day, during exercise or even reaching in your cabinet for the black pepper during dinner preparation. If you take a few moments daily to incorporate intentional midline crossing exercises, your brain will pay off. Certain exercises, like swimming or yoga, already have cross-brain activities incorporated, so pencil a few into your schedule.

You can do it on your own by dancing to the beat a favorite song after your morning coffee. Not only will you get a great brain workout, but it’s almost impossible to have a bad day when you start out with such an energetic ritual!

Spatial Work

Are you the one in your family who knows how to pack the trunk of the car with everyone’s suitcase? If so, you likely have strong spatial skills. Many people struggle with spatial placing though, and it not only can affect your brain, but it can also affect balance and other gross motor skills. To work on the spatial sector of your brain, try puzzle-based activities or hit the gym. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed a connection between a resistance training program and increased spatial awareness.

As you look at your overall health, don’t forget to include goals for brain exercises. Incorporate a few into your weekly routine to assure you’re using it so you don’t lose it.

UVA is invested in keeping you happy and healthy. Find a doctor today to start your wellness journey.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress