Intellectual wellness involves expanding knowledge and improving skills through scholastic, technical, or cultural endeavors.

It’s fairly well known that physical activity is important for the body and crucial to overall wellness. But do you know it’s important to exercise your brain? The number of cells in the brain can start to decline in our mid-20s, but research has shown that the number of connections between brain cells can continue to grow if we exercise our brains. Using your brain pumps blood to it, which carries oxygen and food to cells. Increasing blood flow to the brain has numerous benefits, including counteracting aging and fighting Alzheimer’s. So the more you exercise your brain in childhood, middle age, and all stages of life, the better off your brain will be at all stages.

Even if you are taking classes or work at a job where you use your brain often, it is important to work your mind in multiple ways. Just as cross training is important to working out, you must cross-train your brain.

10 ways to cross-train your brain

  1. Flex your math muscle.
    For better or worse, modern devices have taken over many tasks we used to complete with our brains. Working your brain can be as simple as doing math in your head. Doing math manually trains your working memory, which is the part of your memory that stores information for immediate use.
  2. Navigate yourself.
    Map reading and navigation are important skills. Next time you are going somewhere, turn off the GPS and learn how to get there the old fashioned way. A research study from 2000 showed that London taxi drivers had tremendous growth in gray matter of their hippocampus when compared to the control group of bus drivers (who stuck to routes and didn’t engage their brains to navigate).
  3. Work on puzzles.
    There are many different puzzles to appeal to a variety of people: sudoku, crosswords, anagrams, logic puzzles. and lateral-thinking puzzles. Specifically, logic puzzles help improve your deductive reasoning skills and teaches you to organize your thinking. Lateral-thinking puzzles train your brain to think outside of the box.
  4. Become a storyteller.
    We’re not encouraging lying. Telling stories enhances creativity and exercise your imagination, two very important components of the brain. In addition, writing stories will also improve your improvisation skills.
  5. Learn new words.
    The average adult has a vocabulary of 30,000 words, and there are at least a quarter million words in the English language. Make a resolution to learn two to three new words a week and make it a habit. To maximize retention, use your new words in regular conversation.
  6. Use your nondominant hand.
    Except for critical tasks such as driving where your safety is of utmost importance, completing daily tasks using your nondominant hand will boost your brain power. Using both hands engages both sides of the brain, allowing for increased creativity. Research also shows that using both hands actually engages numerous different parts of the brain.
  7. Give video games a try.
    Video games get a bad rap for a variety of reasons, but some can be useful. Look for video games that make you speed count, solve math equations, draw pictures, and other brain-training activities. Although do use some caution. Some brain-training games do not actually teach skills that transfer beyond the game situation.
  8. Add new skills to your toolbox
    Learning a new skill by choice and for fun engages the brain in a different way than traditional academic learning. Challenge yourself to learn a new language, try dancing, or pick up a musical instrument. Each of these activities engages different areas of the brain in different, yet important, ways.
  9. Take a walk down memory lane.
    One way to do this is to regularly look at old photos. As you look them over, try to recall everything you can about the events in the picture that you possibly can. Calling to mind the dates, names of people, and other relevant details will reinforce your long-term memory.
  10. Debate the issues.
    Debating, in a calm and respectful manner, tests your powers of reasoning. Keeping calm is key, as the point of the exercise is to exert your brain and not add unnecessary stress. Debating works out the brain because it teaches you to think on your feet and anticipate your opponent’s point of view. In addition social interaction and debating involves many cognitive tasks, such as memory, attention, thought processing, and control.

Sources: Examined Existence, Journal of the American Academy of Neurology, and NPR

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Challenge yourself to make YOU a priority in 2015! Seven is a free program from Health Promotion and Wellness for students, faculty, and staff that focuses on the importance of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, and vocational. Seven runs from September to the end of April, and you can join at any time. Participants log wellness activities to earn points toward monthly prize drawings and compete toward end of the year overall point totals. Participants also receive the Seven e-newsletter and information on campus wellness events. For additional details and to sign up, visit