Are you feeling demotivated or down between work and being stuck indoors?
Why not pick up a new skill?
I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of listicles with dozens of suggestions to keep you occupied at home.
But what about specific skills that are neuroscience-backed as being good for your brain health?
You might feel as though you’re losing out on a lot of experiences and opportunities which could enhance your life while stuck at home.
However, with specific brain-based strategies and the limitless potential of your brain, you can pick up skills and abilities that have long-lasting benefits.
Not only can certain skills help you improve your cognitive abilities, like better problem-solving, creativity and memory, they can also help prevent age-related cognitive decline in the future.
So, let’s take a look at these 5 skills you can learn at home to improve your brain health.
5 Skills You Can Learn at Home to Improve Your Brain Health
1. Learn a New Instrument
Neuroscientists unanimously agree that learning a new instrument has incredible brain benefits unlike anything else.
Jennifer Bugos, assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, says,
“Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds.”
You might have heard that those who have been playing an instrument from a young age have a structurally different brain with more gray matter compared to those who don’t.
But don’t be afraid – you can learn to play an instrument at any age, and experience solid cognitive benefits.
For instance, in one study, adults between ages 60 and 85 participated in individual piano lessons.
6 months later, researchers found that these people had experienced significant brain benefits, including greater speed in thinking, memory and planning.
Lifelong learning is possible at any age, thanks to your brain’s neuroplasticity.
This refers to the ability of the brain to learn and adapt to new information and experiences, by creating and strengthening connections between its brain cells or neurons.
Thus, you can pick up the guitar or try your hand at the piano even if you didn’t get lessons as a child.
Studies show that even moderate levels of musical training show improved brain benefits!
What makes musical training such a great brain exercise?
You’re practicing using several learning modalities or sensory pathways at the same time.
You’re listening as you play, visually processing chords and keys and sheet music, and physically engaging with your instrument to make music.
By integrating all these senses together, you activate many different parts of your brain at once.
As a result, it enhances and develops many parts of the brain involved in learning and memory, leading to faster processing and better recall!
According to Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist,
“Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t. It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”
2. Learn How to Read Faster
There’s an enormous and growing body of research proving how reading enhances brain health and functioning.
For instance, researchers at Stanford University found that “close literary reading” is like a brain workout, that activates multiple regions of the brain.
Doing this often develops and sharpens many of your cognitive functions, including phonemic awareness (being able to tell apart the sounds that create words), auditory and visual processing, and reading comprehension (your ability to decode what you’re reading and connect it to what you know.)
Reading also helps you naturally visualize what you’re learning.
And, as I cover in my course Total Recall Learning™, visualization is one of the secrets of faster learning and recall!
Your brain can process images almost 60,000 times faster than it can process text.
Around 80% of your brain might be involved in visual processing!
The more your brain experiences creating mental movies out of what you read, the better and faster you’re able to remember what you are learning!
Moreover, neuroscientists have found that reading fiction can actually develop and grow parts of your brain as though you are personally experiencing the things you read about.
This is because the same parts of your brain are active when you read about something as when you experience it.
You’ve probably experienced or heard someone describe a book that’s so good it’s like you’ve been transported into another world, or into the shoes of the protagonist, right?
Well, this isn’t just figurative – it impacts you biologically as well!
Meanwhile, as psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York prove, reading fiction improves your emotional intelligence as well.
Because you read through and experience the emotions of other people, you are better able to process and maneuver through complicated and nuanced emotions and social experiences.
All of this is great news, right? But what if you’re a slow reader, or just don’t enjoy reading?
This could be because you have unconscious habits that slow your reading down, that you don’t even know about.
In Total Recall Learning™, not only do I show you how to recognize and fix these reading habits, but I show you traditional and hi-tech reading strategies that can double your reading speed!
And by speeding up your reading, you create opportunities for yourself to learn so much more!
3. Learn a New Language
Just as you’re never too old to start learning an instrument, you’re never too old to start learning a new language.
Your brain is constantly learning new vocabulary throughout life.
You had to pick up more advanced vocabulary in high school, in college, and in your profession.
You’re picking up new vocabulary when you watch movies and series or when talking to people.
Your brain runs statistics of what words you encounter often, and in what combinations, so that it can predict what word patterns to expect.
The more you practice a new language, the more your brain does this for unfamiliar words. And with more practice and exposure, the more similar your brain processes become to that of a native speaker.
There are plenty of ways in which you can learn to be more fluent in a new language.
You can smooth out your accent by practicing how to differentiate similar sounding words, and the different mouth positions involved in making sounds that don’t exist in your language.
As you do this, your brain creates new connections to store this experience.
And the more you keep practicing, and come across these new sounds and words, the more your brain adjusts and learns to expect certain words and their combinations, like a native speaker.
Just like reading helps enhance your executive functioning and improves connectivity between your brain cells, learning a new language does the same.
In fact, the brains of bilingual and multilingual speakers are structurally different to those who speak only one language.
For science-backed tips on how to learn a new language, check out my course, Total Recall Learning™!
4. Learn Some New Workouts
Did you know exercise can actually help you grow your brain?
Despite any myths you might have heard about being born with a limited number of brain cells that decrease through life, the truth is your brain can create new neurons.
And exercising is a science-proven way this can happen.
Not only does exercise enhance your neuroplasticity, by speeding up the rate at which your brain can create connections between its cells, but it also promotes growth of brand-new neurons.
Among the places where this process, called neurogenesis, occurs is the brain’s hippocampus. This is a part of the brain that’s heavily involved in learning and memory!
When you exercise, your heart rate speeds up. It pumps more blood, containing more oxygen and nutrients, up to your brain.
This is why exercise helps your brain maintain and repair the health of its cells, grow new cells, develop new blood vessels and make sure everything is in the best condition for learning and recall.
Learning new workout regimens and slowly perfecting your routines also helps expand your neuroplasticity.
Your brain will create new associations for the actions and motions you’re going through, and the more exercise, the stronger these associations will become.
And the plus side is, exercising your neuroplasticity like this helps maintain your brain health in the long run, as well as your overall physical health and mental well-being!
The latter is thanks to the fact that regular exercise increases the level of dopamine, endorphins, and other brain proteins that reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and boost your motivation and mood.
5. Learn How to Remember Anything
Have you ever seen those memory champions on TV, who can repeat hundreds of words and strings of random numbers completely from memory?
Well – you can be like them too!
While I don’t think you’d ever need to remember dozens and dozens of random numbers for any practical reason, knowing the tricks these memory champions use can fool-proof your memory.
You can easily recall anything from phone numbers and names, to grocery lists, vocabulary and everything you read.
The key to remembering anything you read is visualization.
As you already read, your brain processes and recalls images tens of thousands of times faster than it processes text.
By converting what you need to remember into a mental movie, you can recall anything much faster than you can remember words on a page.
You do this by taking what you want to remember, and asking yourself, “What does this remind me of?”
So, for example, let’s imagine that you’ve decided to learn a new language.
You come across the word “luna” which means “moon” in Spanish.
“Luna” could remind you of “lunar” – you might be imagining a lunar eclipse or the lunar calendar.
But if you want to make sure the image is vivid and sticks in your head a lot longer, make this image as colorful and funny as you can.
Since “luna” rhymes with “tuna”, you might imagine a school of tuna jumping over the moon!
Do you know anyone called Luna? You can imagine them sitting on the moon, eating her tuna sandwiches!
Or, like the Dreamworks logo, you can imagine Luna sitting on a crescent moon, fishing for tuna!
Now that’s an image you won’t forget anytime soon, right?
By creating an association between what you’re learning and what you already know, and making this image as colorful, animated and ridiculous as you like, you can remember anything in half the time.
There are plenty more memory systems you can use, all based on visualization, that can help you recall anything.
For example, you can picture yourself placing the items on your grocery list one by one on your body.
So, the first item on your list goes on top of your head, the next one from your right ear, the third one on your left ear, and so on.
This is called the Body Peg Memory System, and once you visualize your grocery list hanging off parts of your body, you’ll see how much easier it is to remember than a list you jotted down.
For plenty of other helpful memory systems, including one to remember numbers in any order, as well as the Mind Palace technique the ancient Greeks and Romans developed and which memory champions use to this day, check out Total Recall Learning™!
There are plenty of skills and hobbies you can try while you’re at home, and the best part is that any type of new learning can help work out your brain’s plasticity and improve brain health.
By trying out these 5 skills you can learn at home to improve your brain health, you can open up your opportunities for diverse and lifelong learning!
Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.
Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™.
She is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!