Brain training techniques: how to boost your brain

11 October 2017

Forgetting someone’s name or where you put your keys may make you worry, but there’s plenty you can do to keep your brain on its toes.



Contents

Why boosting your brain is important
Nurture your brain
Improve your concentration
Improve your memory
How to remember your PIN
How to remember your PIN
Make a mind map
Create a memory palace
How to remember names and faces
How to remember numbers
Remember a deck of cards in order
Improve your reasoning
Five of the best brain-training apps
Surprising brain boosters
Checklist

Why boosting your brain is important

Regular mental exercise and healthy living can fight age-related decline and improve your concentration, memory and reasoning – as well as your social life.

Like the rest of the body, age takes its toll on the brain. As we get older, our brain changes in various ways.

Some parts shrink in size, notably the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Both are important for learning and memory.

Nerve cells die or become damaged, affecting communication in the brain. And blood flow to and around the brain is reduced as arteries narrow and fewer new capillaries are made.

Damage to brain cells caused by free radicals accumulates over time. These harmful molecules are created by natural processes, such as breathing and digestion, but can be the result of stress, smoking, alcohol or pollutants.

Abnormal protein clusters build up around nerve cells, interfering with the brain’s normal communication.

Eating unhealthily, failing to give your brain a decent workout, and not exercising or resting may speed up its decline, too, and reduce your sharpness, memory, logic and concentration.

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to keep your mind in tip-top condition. According to a report by NHS Choices, brain training and healthy living can lower the risk of dementia and loss of cognitive function as we age. With a new case of dementia detected every four seconds around the world, this may have major health implications.

The NHS recommends a blend of exercise, brain training and healthy eating to keep your mind sharp. This guide will help you do just that, with activities and exercises that could have a positive impact on boosting your brain power.

A new case of dementia is detected every four seconds around the world

Cerebrum (covered by the cerebral cortex) is divided into left and right hemispheres each with different functions. The left generally deals with language and logic, while visual awareness, face recognition and music are handled by the right hemisphere. Each hemisphere is divided into four lobes that have further specialised functions.

Frontal lobes are responsible for reasoning, decision-making, movement, muscle coordination and personality.

Temporal lobes handle memory storage area, emotion, hearing and, on the left side, language.

Parietal lobes process information from our senses about space, perception and size.

Occipital lobes process visual information

Cerebellum controls body functions such as balance, posture and coordination.

Hippocampus processes new memories for long-term storage. One of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Amygdala handles basic survival instincts such anger and fear. Typically shrinks in size as we age.

Parts of the brain

Nurture your brain

A few simple steps could have an immediate effect on your mind’s capabilities.

There are lots of benefits to nurturing your brain. You may complete tasks quicker, think more clearly and be less overwhelmed by challenges. Social interactions and your ability to recall people, places and things may improve. You’ll feel more energised and engaged.

The good news is that keeping your brain in tip-top health doesn’t involve taking dodgy pills or crackpot thinking. Follow these straightforward methods for keeping your mind on the ball.

Sleep well

A decent night’s sleep is essential for a healthy brain. Aim for around seven to eight hours nightly, as this enables you to process and store recent memories and information, and experience several nocturnal cycles in preparation for the next waking phase.

Follow a consistent bedtime routine – even over weekends – so your body switches more easily into sleeping. Don’t use smartphones, TVs and tablets in the hour before you go to bed – the blue screen light can disrupt melatonin release that helps you sleep.

Have a power nap

Don’t feel bad about nodding off mid-afternoon. Researchers have discovered that people who stay awake all day are less able to learn new tasks as the day progresses. A power-nap after lunch not only relieves tiredness, but it can also help to improve alertness, memory, learning and creative problem solving.

Listen to music

Music may have a positive impact on memory, cognition and problem solving – but only if you listen to the right type of music. Complex, highly structured musical arrangements – such as some classical music – have been found by researchers to improve brain-wave function.

It’s also better to listen at lower volumes, according to researchers, as loud music can hinder the brain’s ability to process information, impairing creativity.

Laugh

It’s no joke – a good belly laugh has measurable health benefits. It lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and releases endorphins, chemicals that induce feelings of pleasure. And a recent US study found that older people who watched a funny video performed better in memory recall tests afterwards.

Have sex

Research by the University of Maryland found that regular sexual activity boosted the creation of new neurons in the brain, helping to prevent memory loss and improve cognitive function. Sexual activity has also been found to increase blood flow to the brain significantly, flooding it with oxygen, essential nutrients and feel-good hormones.

Make time for friends

The more sociable we are, the less we suffer from memory decline, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. Having a network of friends not only provides emotional support, but socialising is also good exercise for the brain. Boost your social life by volunteering, joining a club, taking up a team sport or even getting a dog so you can meet other dog walkers.

Meditate

Meditation and achieving a calm state of mind can lead to lower stress levels – one of the biggest hindrances to mental reasoning and problem solving. Slowing down your thinking can mean you’re able to process facts more clearly and analyse a problem properly.

Play mind games

Like a muscle, your brain needs regular exercise to keep it working as powerfully as possible. Board games such as Scrabble and chess are great for training your brain, while solo mind games such as non-verbal reasoning, crosswords and sudoku are good to try.

Keep a diary

Pen and paper are powerful tools for mental health. Taking time to write a journal may have numerous brain benefits. Keeping a diary can help you to organise your thoughts, commit events to memory, work through complex problems and lower stress.

Learn a musical instrument

Studies show that learning to play a musical instrument uses both the right and left hemispheres, forcing the brain to form new neural connections that aid memory and concentration, and boost cognitive function.

Learn a new language

Mastering a second language in later life may boost the ageing brain by improving cognitive abilities.

It’s no joke – a good belly laugh has measurable health benefits

Top 10 brain-boosting foods

Oily fish: the likes of salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines may boost brain health, say scientists. Oily fish contains DHA, a fatty acid that has been linked to improved brain function, memory and alertness, and the reduced risk of degenerative diseases, such as dementia.

Red wine: some studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of red wine may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Blueberries: well known for their antioxidant effect, blueberries help to protect the brain against brain-cell damage caused by free radicals, which occurs in dementia.

Dark green vegetables: kale, spinach and broccoli are great sources of vitamin E and iron, which have been shown to prevent or slow down age-related cognitive decline.

Tomatoes: ripe tomatoes are full of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant that protects against brain-cell damage caused by free radicals, which occurs in dementia.

Eggs: full of vitamin B12 and lecithin, eggs may help to prevent brain shrinkage – often seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Egg yolks are a rich source of choline – a choline deficiency may impair memory and reasoning functions, and advance the onset of senile dementia.

Nuts: most nuts improve brain health thanks to their rich concentration of vitamin E and other minerals. Walnuts contain high levels of DHA, which may improve cognitive performance and prevent age-related cognitive decline, while peanuts are high in niacin, which studies have associated with helping to stave off Alzheimer’s.

Wholegrains: grains such as brown rice, wheat bran, barley, bulgur wheat and oats are rich in complex carbohydrates that help to provide essential energy for the brain to function properly. They also contain fibre for a healthy digestive system.

Caffeine: recent studies have shown that caffeine – the active ingredient in coffee and tea – can improve reaction time and memory as well as protect against cognitive decline and dementia.

Water: your brain needs plenty of water to function properly. Dehydration can impair short-term memory, decision-making and concentration; in the long term, it can result in the brain shrinking in size and mass. Aim for eight to ten glasses a day.

Your brain needs plenty of water to function properly… Aim for eight to ten glasses a day

5 great exercises to boost brain power

Research shows that taking regular physical exercise can help to prevent or slow the progress of dementia. Aerobic exercise increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, aids the creation of neurons – cells that transmit messages through the nervous system – and reduces damage caused by free radicals. Exercise floods the brain with vital hormones, including mood-enhancing serotonin, and dopamine and norepinephrine, which boost learning, concentration and motivation.

Walking: recent research has found that taking a brisk 40-minute stroll three times a week increases the size of the hippocampus – the brain’s memory centre – which is one of the first areas to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Dancing: the aerobic action pumps oxygen-rich blood to the brain so it functions better, and learning new steps stimulates the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. A study has found that 76% of people aged 75 and older who danced regularly showed fewer signs of dementia, compared with other types of exercise and cognitive activities.

Swimming: like all forms of cardio, swimming improves the flow of oxygen to the brain. With its repetitive strokes and need for regular, deep breathing, swimming is meditative in nature, helping to decrease tension and improve wellbeing.

Golf: a round of golf can help to stimulate your brain and sharpen your concentration. Along with the aerobic benefits of walking around a golf course, focusing on your strokes and on strategy gives your brain a good workout.

Tennis: a game of tennis can improve memory, boost learning ability and increase motivation. It requires tactical thinking, agility and coordination, all of which help the brain to develop new neural connections. 

Improve your concentration

Banish distractions, improve your focus and complete tasks more easily.

Being able to concentrate on a task can prove frustratingly difficult. It's all too easy to get distracted or have your concentration broken by interruptions. However, it is possible to train your brain so its tendency to wander is minimised. The result is clearer thoughts, sharper focus and the ability to complete tasks faster and more accurately.

Boosting concentration takes time, practise and patience. As with physical exercise, your brain needs regular workouts:

As with physical exercise, your brain needs regular workouts

Find a peaceful place

Look for somewhere you can focus, with as few distractions as possible.

Do daily concentration exercises

Take 10-15 minutes each day in this quiet place to practise a concentration exercise. Aim to complete the task without getting distracted but, if you do, just start the exercise again and keep practising for the full 15 minutes. Remember, it can take weeks to master these workouts. Try the following to get you started:

Backwards counting – count down from 100 to 1 in your mind.

Skip counting – count from 1 to 100 but avoiding certain numbers. For example, try counting but avoiding every third number.

Paragraph counting – open a book and choose a paragraph. Count the number of words in the paragraph without getting distracted, then count them again and check you get the same result. Move to two then three paragraphs as you improve.

Object examination – pick an object, such as an orange or a fork. Hold it in your hands for 2 minutes, concentrating on the feel, weight, colour and texture. Close your eyes and try to concentrate on visualising an image of the object with as much clarity as possible, for as long as possible.

Limit distractions

Avoid sensory overload when you need to concentrate. Switch off the radio, turn off the TV, sit away from traffic or conversation noise and clear your desk of clutter.

Try meditation

Join a class to learn how to meditate. Spending time clearing your mind of distractions, developing calmness and peace will allow you to improve your focus. When meditating, concentrate on slowing your breathing, and practise for at least 5 minutes a day.

Plan your time

Create to-do lists, and sit down each morning to update them and tick off tasks. We’re able to concentrate better earlier in the day, and to-do lists keep us on track and focused on completing tasks.

5 hobbies to help boost concentration

Chess: requires long periods of concentration as you have to plot both your and your opponent’s possible moves, requiring you to hold complex scenarios in your mind.

Painting: demands concentration to create a finished piece of art. Practising and developing painting skills can also help to improve focus.

Reading: sitting quietly for an hour and completely focusing on a narrative within a book can do wonders for concentration.

Knitting: requires continuous skill and focus, and the more intricate the knit, the more focus it requires.

Video games: not just for teenagers, playing fast-paced video games requires intense concentration. Don’t let violent space battles put you off – Nintendo makes some great family-friendly games that are easy to use, as well as specific brain-training programs such as Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training.

Playing fast-paced video games requires intense concentration and focus

Improve your memory

Try these tips and techniques to enhance your recall skills and keep them strong.

The pace and pressures of modern life – needing to recall passwords, account names and PINs – can feel overwhelming and take a toll on memory. Recall can decline with age, too. A few simple exercises and steps may help to boost your memory, while arming yourself with some handy tricks will help you remember and recall more effectively.

Pay attention

Force yourself to become more observant of your daily activities. Avoid distractions so you can give your full attention to the things you need to remember.

Write it down

Writing something down helps you to remember it even if you don’t look at your notes again. Learning is active so the physical act of writing helps fix it in your memory. Use a diary or planner to keep track of appointments, activities and forthcoming events.

Repeat and recite

Immediately repeating and reciting the information you’ve just learnt – at least five times, either by writing it down or even saying it out loud – is the best way to imprint it in your memory.

Involve your senses

Try to relate the information you need to memorise to as many senses as possible by associating it with colours, textures, smells and tastes. For example, if you’re introduced to someone called Sally, who’s wearing a green dress, repeat to yourself ‘Sally’s in a green dress and green is my favourite colour’. This can help you to remember her name.

Chunking

Our brains can process only so much information at a time, so grouping information into smaller, more manageable chunks makes it easier to remember. For example, the number sequence 4, 2, 2, 8, 5, 4 is easier to remember as 42, 28 and 54.

Mnemonics – a memory aid

Mnemonics are techniques that help us to remember information, usually by linking it with a visual image, a sentence or a word. Here are some useful mnemonic methods.

Acronym – a word that’s made up of the first letters of all the words or ideas you need to remember. For example, STAB helps you remember the four voices in a quartet: soprano, tenor, alto and bass.

Acrostic – a phrase in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. For example, to remember the sequence of colours in a rainbow, we use the phrase ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’ to represent red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Rhymes – for example, ‘Thirty days hath September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 except February clear, which has 28 and 29 in a leap year’.

Visualise – the more colourful, positive and three-dimensional the image, the better. Funny things are easier to remember. So, link a person whose name is Cliff to an image of him atop the white cliffs of Dover.

Memory palace technique, also called the method of loci, is a useful way to remember lists of items. It involves visualising a familiar place, such as your house, through which you can take an imaginary walk. You then imagine placing each thing you need to remember at a specific place on that journey, say in the kitchen of your home. Make the image large and colourful, so it’s easy to remember. Then, to recall all the items, simply mentally retrace your route.

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How to remember your PIN

Psychologist Dr Andy Johnson, an expert in short-term memory at Bournemouth University, recommends the rhyming ‘pegwords’ method to remember a list of items or sequence of numbers, such as a date, PIN or booking number.

1. Establish words, preferably nouns, that rhyme with the numbers one to ten. One might be ‘sun', two is ‘shoe’, three is ‘knee’, and so on.

2. Pair the first rhyme with the first item you want to recall on, say, a shopping list. Start to create a story. So, if the first item is chocolate, think of the hot sun (one) melting your chocolate.

3. Take the second rhyme, shoe, and match it with the second item, which could be bananas, and carry on the story. So, the hot sun (one) has melted your chocolate and because of the heat you take your shoes off and put a banana in a shoe (two).

4. Move on to three – knee – and use that and the item you want to link it to in your story. This could be eggs. You might trip over your shoes and fall on your knee (three), landing on an egg and smashing it.

5. Continue the story using pegwords until you have included all ten items.

6. Alternatively, if you want to remember a number, for example 1415, the year of the Battle of Agincourt, you might think of a bright sun (one) shining through a door (four) onto a knight's armour that in turn reflects the sun (one) onto a hive (five) sitting on the battlefield.

Make a mind map

Mind Mapping, developed by psychology author and consultant Tony Buzan, presents information visually in the form of a map containing images, keywords and colours all drawn on a sheet of paper. Use it to remember the contents of a book, revise for an exam, or even plan and memorise a speech.

1. Begin your Mind Map with a central idea. This will act as a springboard to further ideas and all your key themes will link back to it. If you are doing a Mind Map to help you remember your grammar, for instance, have ‘grammar’ as the central idea in the middle of your sheet.

2. Begin adding relevant branches leading from your central idea and label them. Each branch should represent a key topic. One branch in our example might be ‘pronouns’. Follow these up with child branches to add more details to your ideas. Child branches from ‘pronouns’ could be ‘possessive’, ‘objective’, ‘subjective’ and ‘restrictive’.

3. Make sure you use one-word keywords. These short prompts jog your memory and enable you to remember more information.

4. Add colours. Colour coding helps you categorise and highlight ideas, enabling you to analyse information and identify connections.

5. Use pictures to help you process information instantly and imprint key ideas to easily spark associations in the brain.

Tony Buzan’s Mind Mapping technique is now available in software form. Find out more at imindmap.com.

Create a memory palace

A 5th-century BC Greek poet, Simonides of Ceos, is credited with devising the memory palace – or method of loci – a technique for remembering large numbers of items. He was the sole survivor when a palace roof collapsed at a banquet and was able to help identify the victims’ bodies by remembering where each was sitting. A 2017 study in the journal Neuron found that people who used it for six weeks doubled the number of words they could recall in a short period of time. It can even help with speeches and the names of people you meet at a gathering.

1. Visualise a place you know well. For example, your home.

2. Walk through it in your mind in a logical order. For example, you enter the front gate, walk up the garden path, go through the front door and into the hall. Visit the rooms that are off that, such as the lounge and kitchen, then go upstairs into each bedroom and bathroom.

3. Move logically around each room and, if you have a lot of items to remember, focus on furniture, such as the sofa, television and bed.

4. Place something you want to remember in each room, or on each piece of furniture, and link it to a funny image in your mind. If you want to buy onions, there might be a weeping Frenchman in a striped jersey sitting on the front doorstep peeling one of his string of onions.

5. When you need to recall your items, just take an imaginary walk through your house and the images should pop into your mind.

How to remember names and faces

Eight-times memory champion Dominic O’Brien has created, refined and shared many techniques used by other memory ‘athletes’ in his books, such as How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week and You Can Have an Amazing Memory. He recalls people he has met by visualising them in a particular location and associating them with someone else.

1. When introduced to someone called Margaret, picture where you might expect to meet that person. If she looks like a librarian, visualise her in a library.

2. Now think of someone you know called Margaret – perhaps the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

3. Imagine Margaret Thatcher working in a library and the next time you see or meet Margaret, this scene will come to mind.

O’Brien sometimes finds it easier to associate them with a physical characteristic.

1. If you are introduced to a man called Peter Byrd and he has a hooked nose, like a bird’s beak, this gives you bird.

2. His first name is Peter, which you can shorten to Pet so that you have Pet Bird, which quickly takes you to Peter Byrd.

3. If the person you meet doesn’t have an obvious physical feature, invent one. You might want to picture Maria Hutton as the nun from The Sound of Music with a hat on.

How to remember numbers

Dominic O’Brien has a handy mnemonic for sequences of digits, such as telephone numbers, calendar dates, PINs. His ‘number shape system’ involves translating single-digit numbers into an image resembling its shape.

1. Devise a system allocating each number from zero to nine a shape. O’Brien suggests a ball for 0, a pencil for 1, a swan for 2, handcuffs for 3, a sail for 4, a seahorse for 5, a golf club for 6, a boomerang for 7, a snowman for 8 and a balloon on a string for 9.

2. Take the number you want to commit to memory and assign it a shape. Perhaps you want to remember 1580, your bank PIN. That’s a pencil, a seahorse, a snowman and a ball.

3. To link these disparate images, stage a wacky scene. Imagine walking into your bank carrying a gigantic pencil – perhaps you are about to draft a business plan. Inside the bank there is a seahorse queuing at the counter. Behind it is a snowman bouncing a soccer ball on his head. You won’t forget your PIN in a hurry!

Learn more about training your brain using Dominic O’Brien’s strategies at peakperformancetraining.org.

Remember a whole deck of cards in order

For Dominic O’Brien, who once memorised 54 decks of cards after one sighting, the key to remembering 52 playing cards in order is to combine several memory techniques, including the memory palace. You will need to develop and learn your own personal code for each card before placing them in your palace. When you revisit the location, you will recall the cards in their correct sequence.

1. Assign a character or item to each card from ace to nine. The Ace of Clubs might be Al Capone, using the initials of the number and the suit, the seven of Diamonds could be 007 in Diamonds Are Forever.

2. Assign a character or item to the court or face cards. For example, the Jack of Hearts could be Shakespeare’s Romeo and the Jack of Clubs Tiger Woods.

3. In your mind, place each card in a location in your preferred location – probably your home – and ‘walk’ around it in a logical order.

4. Have each character performing an action.

5. Journey through your home recalling the character and action. So you might have Al Capone (Ace of Clubs) toting a machine gun as he bursts through your front door, encountering 007 (seven of Diamonds) with a pistol in the hallway, while behind him Romeo (Jack of Hearts) creeps upstairs to see Juliet, passing Tiger Woods (Jack of Clubs) who is on the way down carrying his golf clubs. The story you are telling mirrors the order of the cards in the pack.

Improve your reasoning

Increase your ability to handle everyday challenges and solve problems with our handy guide.

The ability to reason affects many aspects of our lives, including making appropriate choices and decisions in our interactions with others.

Stress is the biggest enemy of reasoning. Studies carried out by research company Mindlab found that acute short-term stress has a major impact on our ability to perform mental tasks, think critically and make reasonable decisions.

The good news is that scientists have discovered that, with the correct stimulation, the brain has a remarkable ability to reshape itself and actually increase cognitive function, even as people age.

Practise these tips and tricks regularly to improve your reasoning:

The brain has a remarkable ability to increase cognitive function, even as people age

Avoid stress

Even a small amount can affect reasoning. Learn to recognise your stress signals: they differ from person to person, but irritability, mood swings, feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control, through to physical symptoms, such as skin conditions, can be signs of stress. Try to identify what is causing stress and reduce it.

Exercise and relax

Combat stress with exercise – the more strenuous, the better. Try a workout at the gym, running or swimming. Alternatively, relaxation techniques such as meditation or a walk in the park can help.

Break challenges into chunks

Before tackling a challenge, plan your approach. Visualise your goal clearly and how to obtain it and you’ll approach the task or activity with a logical frame of mind. The more complex a problem, the harder it is. So with pen and paper, break any project, task or challenge into manageable pieces or sub-tasks that can be tackled individually. You’ll find it much easier to manage than trying to solve everything at once, and it will feel like you’re making great progress as you tick off each chunk.

Avoid making assumptions

Our brain is wired to arrive at an assumption quickly, based on a smattering of information, then using it to make a decision. That was fine when we heard the growl of a sabre-tooth tiger and needed to flee. But in today’s world, our brain’s ability to make assumptions can mean we arrive at an illogical decision. For example, if a shop assistant is rude to you, you may think it’s because of your age but it could be nothing to do with you, she could just be having a bad day. Pausing and checking that you know all the facts before coming to a conclusion helps us to think logically.

Easy brain training exercises to improve logic

Making reasoned, logical decisions means using all the available information to arrive at an answer dispassionately. Try these mental tasks – they’ll help you to make better, informed day-to-day choices.

Pattern recognition

These exercises – often referred to as verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests – are typically a series of letters, words, patterns and shapes. You need to work out how they’re linked to complete the sequence..

Example 1: Here are four words and number codes to represent them, which are NOT listed in the same order as the words. Find the correct code for the word TAPE

PEEP 4213
TEAT 3142
TAPE 4224
PEAT 3213

Click here for the answer

Example 2: Complete the sequence

KN is to QT as OR is to ??

Click here for the answer

Try these tests, then look for patterns in information during the day. For example, as we drive, observing and understanding traffic patterns can mean we are able to take an early detour to avoid a jam as our brain recognises and acts on possible problems.

Play logic games

Games such as the Tower of Hanoi or the maths puzzles on the TV show Countdown are good examples to keep your mind exercising its logical abilities. You can find lots of logical reasoning tests online, many of which are free to try.

5 of the best brain-training apps

There’s no shortage of apps offering daily workouts for your brain. Here’s a selection:

A study by the BBC found that people who played online brain-training games for just ten minutes, five times a week over a six-month period showed better overall cognitive skills than those who didn’t.

Lumosity

Free and premium subscription; iOS and Android

Used by millions of people, this app lets you tailor your brain training to suit your needs. Choose from a selection of memory, problem-solving and other cognitive skills mini games to create a personal daily routine. Lumosity then tracks your scores and adjusts difficulty levels to ensure you’re always being challenged.

Elevate

Free and premium subscription; iOS and Android

Like Lumosity, Elevate lets users train a variety of brain functions including memory and comprehension. Its focus, however, is on language and maths skills – featuring games that involve estimation, value comparison and name recall, along with reading and listening comprehension. Users can play three games daily free.

Eidetic

Free; iOS and Android. Pro version available on iOS

Using a flash card-style approach, Eidetic helps users memorise and retain information such as lists, notes and phone numbers. You can add your own content so you can memorise whatever is relevant to you. The app tests you at regular intervals to ensure that the information is stored in your long-term memory, ready for whenever you need it.

Fit Brains Trainer

Free and premium subscription; iOS and Android

This app from language firm Rosetta Stone features more than 60 games and 500 customised daily workouts designed to sharpen memory, concentration and other mental faculties. The app monitors your performance and makes subsequent tasks harder to keep you on your toes.

CogniFit Brain Fitness

Free and premium subscription; iOS and Android

This app begins by assessing your current cognitive skills and then offers a variety of fun games so you can improve areas that need strengthening, such as memory, focus and attention. A clever feature is the ability to compete against friends and family members, with rewards for the best performance.

Surprising brain boosters

Want to boost your brain power? Here are five unexpected activities that can help to keep your brain healthy and boost your mental agility.

Chew gum

Feel the need to be more alert? Try chewing gum. Researchers at Cardiff University have found that chewing gum improved concentration and enhanced memory recall and reaction times in people performing audio memory tasks.

Get colouring

Colouring books are one of the hottest trends for adults in search of a relaxing pastime. Colouring has been shown to calm the region of the brain called the amygdala, which when overstimulated makes us stressed or anxious. Colouring activates the brain’s cerebral hemispheres, improving cognitive abilities and increasing attention span.

Sniff rosemary oil

Not only is rosemary a delicious herb to use in cooking, but it can also help to improve your memory. Known as the herb of remembrance since Elizabethan times, modern research has found that a compound of the oil increased mental alertness and memory recall. Studies showed that people who smelt rosemary oil subsequently performed better in cognitive tests measuring speed, accuracy and mood.

Have a curry

Spicy food doesn’t just tickle your tastebuds, it can help prevent age-related cognitive decline. The spices used in curries and Indian cuisine are packed with antioxidants that can help the brain to repair itself. Scientists are particularly excited however by curcumin – the compound that gives turmeric its yellow colour – for its ability to reduce protein build-up in the brain, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Brush and floss your teeth

Poor dental hygiene may be linked to Alzheimer’s, according to a study by the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry. Researchers have discovered bacteria from gum disease in the brain of dementia sufferers, which suggest it has contributed to brain changes that lead to confusion and deteriorating memory.

Brain-boosting checklist

Ready to boost your brain? Print out our handy guide to brain training to get your mind into top gear and improve your memory, focus and logic.

Eat for your mind

A healthy diet is essential for keeping your brain in tip-top condition. Eating well will help to improve your memory, sharpen your intellect and keep your mood buoyant. Eat a varied diet and choose food for its nutritional value. Choose dark green veg, eggs, oily fish and wholegrains for mental health.

Exercise your body

There are plenty of exercises that also benefit your brain. Take action with one of the following:

Yoga – helps to calm your senses and provide time to contemplate and think
Meditate – helps to lower stress levels and improve concentration
Swim good all-round exercise that improves blood flow to the brain
Dance may help to reduce the risk of dementia and improve brain health

Brain-power boosting activities

A few changes and activities each day can help to boost your brain. Ensure you get plenty of sleep and take power naps when tired, keep a diary to record your thoughts, make time for friends and consider learning a language or taking up a musical instrument.

Brain-training steps

Dedicated brain-training steps can actively exercise your brain, boosting concentration, reasoning and memory. Try a few of the following:

Concentration boost – count backwards from 100 to 1, and then upwards from 1 to 100 skipping every third number.
Master the memory palace technique – this brain-training technique can be used to improve your memory
Play logic games – practise games such as the Towers of Hanoi to improve mental logic
Brain-training apps – make everyday brain training easier with a smartphone app such as Lumosity for iPhone and Android smartphones.

Answers

The code for the word TAPE is 3142.

KN is to QT as OR is to UX.

Jump back to pattern puzzles

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