7 Free or Cheap Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

Woman jumping rope
Photo by lzf / Shutterstock.com

Several companies promise to boost your brain power through products they offer. Experts aren’t so sure.

To date, the best evidence suggests that no “magic bullet” exists to improve brain functioning, according to a 2014 statement issued by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Instead, the statement — signed by dozens of scientists — concludes that “cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles.”

Fortunately, there are several free or cheap things you can do to fire up your mind. Following are seven scientifically supported steps to a better brain that mostly just cost you a little time.

1. Get some aerobic exercise

Exercise is perhaps the most thoroughly documented way to improve and protect brain health.

A study of more than 3,000 participants found that being at least moderately active at least once per week increases a person’s odds of “healthy aging” up to sevenfold — even for participants who wait until later in life to become active.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013, included cognitive abilities and mental health in its assessment of healthy aging.

The results of another study published that year — primarily involving researchers from the University of Texas Center for BrainHealth — “suggest that even shorter-term aerobic exercise can … reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging to benefit brain health in sedentary adults.”

The researchers found that participants who got one hour of aerobic exercise three times per week had improved memory and higher blood flow in the hippocampus, the key brain region affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Don’t smoke

When researchers set out to explore the connection between cardiovascular health and cognitive health, it wasn’t high blood pressure, cholesterol or weight that stood out among more than 8,700 participants over age 49.

“Smoking emerged as the most consistent predictor of cognitive decline,” the 2012 study in the British journal Age and Ageing states.

A 2003 study in the American Journal of Public Health of participants between ages 43 and 53 associated smoking more than 20 cigarettes per day with “cognitive impairment and decline in midlife.”

“Smokers who survive into later life may be at risk of clinically significant cognitive declines,” the study found.

3. Grab a cup of joe

A 2012 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that followed participants for a few years resulted in “the first direct evidence that caffeine/coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of dementia or delayed onset.”

Caffeine “tricks” the brain, according to an article on Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Blog:

Not only is caffeine a brain stimulant, but it also blocks receptors for a chemical called adenosine, which normally prevents the release of excitatory brain chemicals. With adenosine out of the way, these brain-sparking chemicals can flow more freely — giving you a surge of energy and potentially improving mental performance and slowing age-related mental decline.

4. Meditate

The results of a 2010 study associated mindfulness meditation aimed at stress reduction with increased concentrations of gray matter in certain parts of the brain.

The researchers, primarily from Harvard University, measured how meditation affected mindfulness factors. Study participants who meditated scored “significantly” higher on three factors:

  • Acting with awareness (defined as “attending to one’s current actions, as opposed to behaving automatically or absent-mindedly”)
  • Observing (“attending to or noticing internal and external stimuli, such as sensations, emotions, cognitions, sights, sounds, and smells”)
  • Non-judging of inner experience (“refraining from evaluation of one’s sensations, cognitions and emotions”)

In 2013, psychiatrist Dr. Rebecca Gladding wrote in the magazine Psychology Today that meditation continues to improve the brain the longer a person meditates regularly:

You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does … It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

Mindfulness meditation can also improve sleep. To learn how to do it, check out “A Free 2-Step Solution For More Sleep.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJZYkis1dAU

5. Read a book

A 2008 study published in the journal Age concluded that reading (and solving math problems) daily has “convincing immediate beneficial effects” on cognitive function, specifically on the brain’s processing speed and executive function.

Executive function includes the ability to manage time and attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, and integrate past experience with present action.

A 2013 study published in the journal Neurology associated regular brain stimulation from activities like reading, visiting a library and writing letters with increased efficiency in certain parts of the brain.

6. Play action video games

A 2013 study by researchers at two London universities found that playing the real-time military strategy video game StarCraft can improve cognitive flexibility, which is essentially the ability to switch between or simultaneously manage multiple ideas or tasks.

Playing a full-map version of StarCraft, which involved two friendly bases and two enemy bases, proved “particularly effective” at boosting cognitive flexibility compared to playing a half-map version, which involved one of each type of base.

“The [full-map version] promotes more switching and coordination of cognitive resources, hallmarks of cognitive flexibility,” the study report states.

A 2014 study by researchers primarily from the University of Rochester in New York found that playing fast-paced action video games like Call of Duty can develop better perceptual templates.

“To sharpen its prediction skills, our brains constantly build models, or ‘templates,’ of the world,” University of Rochester research professor Daphne Bavelier explains in a press release. “The better the template, the better the performance. And now we know playing action video game actually fosters better templates.”

7. Learn a second language

The results of a study of a 2014 study of 853 participants published in the Annals of Neurology suggest that bilingualism improves brain function later in life, with reading skills, verbal fluency and general intelligence being most affected.

A 2013 case study of 648 patients with dementia, published in Neurology, found that being bilingual delayed the onset of dementia by four and a half years.

What do you do to keep your brain in shape? Let us know in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

15 Things You Should Always Buy at Yard Sales
15 Things You Should Always Buy at Yard Sales

You can save a ton of money — especially if you spot any of these items.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

20 Generic Brands That Amazon Created
20 Generic Brands That Amazon Created

Amazon’s growing collection of private brands offers everything from toilet paper and coffee to motor oil and clothing.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.