How To Build Your Own Mental Gym

Building your own mental gym is less about downloading a brain training game, and more about designing your life to support healthy cognitive function. In this article, learn more about having a mental fitness routine and its benefits as well as the must-haves that should be part of your mental gym.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

Technically your brain is not a muscle, yet exercising the brain can change it, much in the same way lifting weights strengthens the body. For a healthy and fit mind, daily exercise is required. Learn more about the benefits of a mental fitness routine, and the must-haves that should be part of your mental gym.

Building Your Mental Gym: About The Efficacy Of Mental Exercise

A mind that’s mentally fit is resilient, less reactive, and protected against cognitive decline due to age or disease. Cognitive fitness includes improved concentration, memory and awareness.

In pursuit of mental fitness, computer-based brain training programs have become a multi-billion dollar industry. The science is mixed however, on whether or not computer games offer measurable improvements in cognition outside of improved performance on the computer game itself. What does seem to protect the mind are lifestyle activities such as artistic and creative pursuits, social interaction, learning new things, and of course, meditation.

Building your own mental gym therefore is less about downloading a brain training game, and more about designing your life to support healthy cognitive function.

Finding Your Mental Fitness Routine

A healthy body requires a healthy lifestyle 24/7. To get the full benefit of 30 minutes daily at the gym, we also eat well, sleep well, and choose to be less sedentary throughout our day.

Making healthy decisions consistently is more effective than a single power workout once per week.

The same goes for training the mind. Daily meditation is a start, but for the greatest protective benefit, we should live a life that promotes cognitive health in every moment.

Establishing a mental fitness routine entails moment to moment mindfulness. Waking up early to devote 15 minutes or more to meditation is wonderful, but more beneficial if we carry awareness forward into the rest of our day. Living within our own mental gym is just as often about what we choose to eliminate, as it is about what we choose to add. We must constantly ask ourselves, is what I’m doing right now good for me and my mind?

Read more: Explore the six main ingredients for a healthy morning routine.

The Must-Haves For Your Mental Gym

Our mind is living, active and changing in each and every moment. The activities we choose to participate in either train the brain, or drain it.

Neuronal pathways are strengthened through repetition. It’s up to us to be mindful of which connections we’re reinforcing. Science tells us the following activities are particularly helpful for building and strengthening neural connections, and preventing cognitive decline. A daily visit to the mental gym should include some or all of the items on this list.

1. Meditate Daily

Studies show a consistent, daily meditation practice makes significant changes to the structure of the brain. Meditation strengthens the left hippocampus, which helps us learn new things, improves memory, and contributes to emotional regulation. Meditation enhances present moment awareness by building density in the posterior cingulate. All the goodness that stems from empathy and compassion is strengthened alongside the temporoparietal junction.

Just like going to the gym, consistency is king when it comes to meditation. Meditating for just 10 minutes per day will change the brain in only 8 weeks. Meditate consistently over the long term, and those changes will become more lasting, even when you’re off the cushion. It’s also never too late to begin a meditation practice. Those already experiencing age-related cognitive decline still benefit from meditation.

Explore Insight Timer and the world’s largest free meditation library!

free guided meditation on Insight Timer

2. Learn Something New

Learning new facts or performing new activities requires the mind to problem solve and make use of new or unfamiliar pathways. Learning new skills, even late in life, is associated with improved memory and higher levels of verbal acuity.

Learning may include long-form reading, listening to a podcast, or taking an online course. It may also incorporate physical tasks such as taking up a new sport, musical instrument, or learning a new craft. Keep variety part of your mental workouts by doing new things.

3. Do Something Creative

Solving problems and tapping into your creative side is similar to doing new things, but less about following instructions, and more about following your intuition.

Creativity strengthens cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to hold two opposing views at the same time, or to think about multiple ideas simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility makes us more resilient to stress, and helps us reach effective solutions in varying situations. Drawing, crafting, writing or dancing are all ways in which we can be creative.

Flourish your inspiration with the help of hundreds of guided meditations for creativity.

4. Welcome Boredom

Welcoming boredom entails avoiding what we normally do to prevent boredom.

Excess screen time, scrolling through social media and mindlessly repeating bad habits are all forms of mentally draining activities. By welcoming boredom rather than reaching for our smartphones, we allow the mind to take real breaks, and strengthen it in the process. Learning to endure boredom also strengthens our ability to remain focused and concentrated. When headed to the mental gym, get comfortable going there alone.

Read more: Neil Tranter reflects on smartphone addiction and which part new technological designs play in digital stress.

5. Be Kind

Keeping tabs on our morality is not only helpful for winning a gold star, but improves our mental health and increases our own happiness.

When we harm others, steal, cheat, lie or gossip, we reinforce negatively biased pathways in our minds. Putting the wellbeing of others before ourselves gives us a sense of purpose, and releases chemicals in the brain that reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. One such chemical, oxytocin, also has a protective effect against inflammation and oxidative stress. Kindness is a muscle that strengthens our whole being as we use it.

Meditation is a real allrounder and can help you with cultivating more kindness and gratitude to yourself and others. Browse our large free collection of metta meditations for loving kindness and meditations for gratitude.

6. Eat Well, Exercise & Sleep

Body and mind are connected, and both are firmly reliant on healthy food, healthy movement, and rest.

Your mental gym is not complete without attention to eating well, exercising and sleeping. A diet rich in Omega3 fatty acids supports cognitive function while saturated fats trigger neurological dysfunction. Exercise improves memory and stimulates growth of the hippocampus. And sleep is among the most important processes in which brain function is solidified, repaired and restored.

Hit The Mental Gym: Start With This “Workout” Plan

A healthy mental workout plan looks no different than a healthy day in general. Eat well, meditate, exercise, and be kind. Use the following template to plan your mental fitness routine:

  • Wake up rested after a good night’s sleep
  • Meditate and/or exercise the body
  • Eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Learn something new at work or on your own
  • Take effective mental breaks by setting your phone aside
  • Problem solve and get creative
  • Be kind to others throughout the day
  • Meditate and/or exercise the body
  • Socialize in a meaningful way
  • Get to bed in a timely manner (You might want to read our blog article about establishing a healthy and relaxing evening routine for best sleep quality.)
  • Repeat!

It takes momentum to get fit if you’ve been living a sedentary life. But upfront effort eventually leads to ease if you can stick to your new routine and hit the mental gym daily. Each small choice we make to become healthier and wiser strengthens the pathways that make future good decisions easier.

Read more: Explore more holistic strategies for better mental wellbeing.

Meditation. Free.
Always.