Brain Training Provides Long-Term Benefits, New Research Shows
22 Resources To Help You Improve Your Memory in Minutes a Day
A year ago, I forgot the combination to my gym lock, and ended up spending five dollars on a new lock- what a waste! I’d had that lock for about three years and used it a couple of times a week at the gym. So, I didn’t get to the gym for a couple of months, which was bad enough. It made me realize that both my mind and my body were out of shape (I’ve subsequently gotten back to working out regularly).
The good news is, your memory and brain function, while they decline as you get older, can be improved with regular exercise- just like your body.
Flash forward: This past weekend, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a segment titled Memory Wizards about a growing number of people, including actress Marilu Henner, who have been identified as having memories that enable them to recall the weather, what they were wearing, or key events they experienced on any date of their life. If you’re interested, you can watch the segment below, or skip to the list of resources further down the page.
The segment was actually an update to a previous piece. As new people are being identified with this type of memory, including ten-year-old Jake Hausler, researchers are beginning to understand what makes these people different than the average person. One exciting development is the identification of identical twins, one of which has this super memory while the other does not.
What makes this story interesting, to me, is that these people don’t have what you would expect to be an increased ability to remember things. What is happening is essentially a reduced ability to forget things. A small difference, but perhaps key to understanding the phenomenon.
The day after the 60 Minutes segment, I found another article on NBC News that states brain training not only provides short-term benefits, but can improve your brain’s processing speed, memory and reasoning ability for as many as ten years after the brain-training exercises stop.
This got me thinking, about how my own memory functions, and what I can do to improve my average memory and focus through brain training. It’s something I have been interested in for some time, but so far have failed to spend any amount of time on the effort. After the 60 Minutes segment, I think I’m ready to start that change!
It turns out that there are many types of memory-improving brain fitness tactics out there, from games and puzzles to yoga, tai-chi and even playing sports. Even chess is a great game to exercise your brain.
While we’ve written before about educational mobile apps and ways to learn on-the-go, the focus on the resource list I’ve put together is specifically for improving brain function, rather than learning specific skills like math or reading.
Below is a list of some of the best-reviewed resources available for anyone interested in spending the time to improve their cognitive function.
Brain Training Websites
There are many websites available, some free and some that charge a monthly fee, that use research-based strategies to provide a fun learning experience. We’ve previously covered a few games that make you smarter, but some of these sites below provide very comprehensive and scientifically-backed programs to measure and improve brain function.
Arguably the most well-known brain-training site, Lumosity offers customized training programs that focus on the areas you’re most interested in improving. A family plan for as little as $10.83/month makes Lumosity an affordable way for the entire family to participate. However, free limited Lumosity accounts are also available. A free app is available for iPhone and iPad (sorry Android users), but a subscription unlocks most of the features just like the website.
Another competitive offering in the brain-training-games space is FitBrains. For around $5.50 a month, you get access to a variety of premium brain games, as well as a reporting dashboard that lets you see your progress in real-time. Like Lumosity, a free-but-limited account is also available. For subscribers, an iOS and Android app are available.
This site offers a variety of free brain training mini-games, as well as a few downloadable games that you can use any time.
Nick offers a game called Brain Surge that offers a fun kid-oriented brain training experience. A variety of other games, some educational, some just for fun, are available.
This site provides a small variety of games to support memory, attention, executive functions, logic and reasoning, and visual perception. A few of the games are free, while others are premium and require a subscription.
Happy Neuron is another easy-to-use and free-to-register site that provides a variety of brain games to improve memory, language, reasoning, and more.
A free site aiming to provide brain-training activities and little else. While free, you won’t get the progress reports that some of the premium sites offer, which I believe to be very important to understanding how well the training is working.
Brain Training Games for iOS and Android
Brain exercise isn’t something you can just do at home. If you have a few minutes while waiting for an appointment, there are very few better uses of your time than some exercise for your brain. Here are just a few apps available for the most popular mobile platforms, but a quick Google search can find many, many more.
Brain School Training (iPhone, iPad)
With 20 different games and five difficulty levels, this free app is appropriate for a wide range of people from kids to adults.
Clockwork Brain (iPhone, iPad)
With a steampunk theme and robot guide, Clockwork Brain provides a number of free games and activities for improving cognitive function. In-app purchases (tokens) can be used to eliminate ads and access premium games.
Charge Your Brain HD (iPhone, iPad)
Colorful mini-games based on logic and three difficulty levels again make this app appropriate for all ages. While free, in-app purchases unlock more games inside the app.
Sudoku (iPhone, iPad, Android – Google Play, Android – Amazon)
A popular game, Sudoku is well known for getting your brain in high-gear. Even playing 1-2 Sudoku games a day can keep your brain from declining in age.
Coach Memory (Android – Google Play)
A game specifically designed to exercise your memory. While it’s not the most attractive app, it is free and users rate it highly.
Lumosity (iPhone, iPad)
As mentioned previously, you can use Lumosity on your iPhone or iPad when you’re not at your computer.
Fit Brains (iPhone, iPad, Android – Google Play, Android- Amazon)
A mentioned above, Fit Brains is available for iOS and Android for brain-training-on-the-go.
Mind Games (Android – Google Play)
With 19 games in all, Mind Games for Android provides a variety of games and puzzles designed to improve brain function. All games include the score history, a global top scores list, and graph of your progress so you can keep track of your gains.
Offline Brain Training Activities
There are many things you can do in your spare time to sharpen your brain without a computer. In fact, we’ve discussed previously that it’s a good idea to limit how much time you (especially kids) spend in front of a screen (especially right before bed), so these activities are great ways to train your brain in the real world. This list is far from exhaustive, but might give you some good ideas.
A game I used to play a lot while I was a kid, this takes serious focus and challenges your memory.
Similar to SIMON, Bop It! gives you commands, and to keep the game going, you do what was told. It doesn’t take long for this game to get difficult, but the required focus is certainly giving your brain a workout.
You can pick up crossword puzzles at the local dollar store, but one of the most popular daily puzzles is that of the New York Times (subscription required). USA Today offers their crossword puzzles for free.
I had previously mentioned Sudoku apps for phones and tablets, but Sudoku books are also readily available and often found at dollar stores or any store with a book/game section. There are also some great websites that allow you to download and print Sudoku puzzles for free (with solutions).
Learn Something New
At K12, we offer a full set of courses in all subjects from grades K-12. Many adults actually sign up for our high school courses to round out areas where they either need some additional education, or to simply learn something new. Whether it’s enrolling in a course you can do at home or picking up a new hobby or skill, you’re sure to get your brain moving when you learn something new.
As for the courses we offer, some of the most popular for adults are high-school-level World Languages courses, which are challenging, yet rewarding.
Fox News reports on a study from the UCLA Medical Clinic which has identified memory superfoods that, in just two weeks, can help improve your memory. Foods to increase consumption of include those that are antioxidant-rich, low-glycemic carbs, and omega-3 fatty acids.
What does this list translate to? Consider colorful fruits and vegetables, oatmeal (hold the sugar!), fish, produce, legumes, and nuts. And of course, staying hydrated (lots of water!) can also help keep your brain running efficiently.
Get More Sleep
This one is hard to argue with. We all know that it can be difficult to get enough sleep. We’re all busy, and our to-do lists are never-ending. However, the benefits of being well-rested are undeniable.
According to a recent Harvard Corporate Sleep Study, sleep has been called the third pillar of health (exercise and nutrition are the other pillars). Sleep deprivation can have devastating effects, both mentally and physically. According to the Huffington Post, here are some key takeaways:
- More than 1/3 of Americans say they get roughly 6.6 hours of sleep per day (the recommendation for adults is 7-8 hours, and I personally aim for 9 when I can.)
- Sleep heavily influences the prefrontal cortex, which is important for innovation, self-control and creativity.
- The average bedtime in the U.S. is 11:39pm!
- A six minute nap is enough to result in significant memory improvements. If you can pull it off, 3pm is a great time to nap; it’s at the low point of most people’s circadian rhythm.
Certainly, more sleep means less time during the day, but that time can be much better spent when you’re feeling refreshed, rather than groggy.
While this list of brain-training activities is far from complete, we sincerely hope that you’ll try a few of these activities or games and report back to us to let us know whether you’ve experienced an increase in memory or focus. And of course, if you know of other ways to train your brain, please let us know in the comments!
Scott Holm is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. Scott has more than 14 years of experience managing websites and publishing web content. As a tech-enthusiast, Scott enjoys writing about science and technology. Born and raised in the Portland, Oregon area, Scott is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys all kinds of outdoor activities, including hiking, snowboarding, wakeboarding, and summiting some of the tallest peaks in the Pacific Northwest. Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and has two loving kids, a dog (Nemo), and a cat (Gizmo).