One of the most common issues my patients mention to me is that they are having cognitive problems. This can include difficulties with memory, concentration or focus, not recalling the right word you are looking for in conversations, etc. Some useful basics to put in place include sufficient sleep, berries, omega-3 fats (eg: from cold water fish such as salmon and sardines, also flaxseed), and regular exercise. One area that is often neglected is brain exercise. Brain researchers are showing over and over that we can actually modify, retrain, and strengthen our cognitive functions. I’ve listed five exercises below that will improve your concentration, which is a significant key overcoming a lazy brain.

Exercise #1 – Exergaming

New York researchers published a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that compared two groups of seniors and monitored their cognitive health. One group performed traditional back-supported cycling, and the other did the same exercise but were also concentrating on a virtual reality tour at the same time. The group that did the “cybercycling” had better cognitive function, and their risk for cognitive impairment reduced by 23%. This study basically showed that combining physical and cognitive exercises improves and protects your brain functions. A simple variation would be to do your own visualization exercise while you exercise. For example, while exercising, imagine yourself being in an inspiring or stimulating place that you have visited in the past. Make your image vivid, including sounds, smells, feelings. You will find that by the end of your exercise you will feel happier, and you won’t see the exercise as a task, but rather as a pleasurable and stimulating experience.

Exercise #2 – Breathing Exercise

Mindful breathing is a wonderful and easy way to improve your level of focus and concentration. With this approach, sustained attention is required to focus on your breath, so with your mind, focus on the slow steady inhaled breath (just like a wave coming in from the sea), and then focus on the slow steady exhaled breath (the wave moves out back to sea). While you are breathing this way, make sure your mind does not wander, instead having it focus on the breathing in and out. United Kingdom researchers published a 2012 study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience which found that study participants who did 10 minutes a day of mindfulness breathing/ meditation found beneficial changes in brain function that relate to improved self-regulation of attention.

Exercise #3 – Counting Backwards

Counting backwards helps keep your mind focused and functioning well, since most people don’t do this. If you’re not great with numbers, start by counting down from 100 to zero by 2’s, so count down in your mind: “100, 98, 96…” For more cognitive challenge, count down by 3’s, or 7’s.

Exercise #4 – Play Games

It’s ideal to try playing a variety of games, the important point is the variety to prevent the common “lazy brain”. Becoming an expert in one game like Scrabble, or Sudoku is great, but the best brain benefits come from the variety. So, try new games, whether they are solitary, or with others such as cards or board games.

Exercise #5 – Practice Concentrating

For five minutes a day select any object, say a piece of fruit, and concentrate on it. Take a banana for example: examine it from all sides, while keeping your complete attention focused on it. Ignore any distracting thoughts. Just analyze the banana, observing its shape, colourations, smell, sensation and texture as you hold it in your hand. You can vary this concentration exercise by holding a small bite of some food in your mouth, and for five to ten minutes, with your mind, describe the sensation, taste, smell, how it breaks down in your mouth, etc. It sounds very simple because it is.

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