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Exercising your grey cells

Sport keeps the body fit and helps us stay healthy. But brains need exercise too. Whether it's concentration, cognition or memory – a few simple exercises can help you stay mentally alert.

Brain training –sometimes also referred to as "brainjogging" – is a generic name for mental exercises which are intended to preserve or boost brain function. Regular exercise targets specific areas of the brain and leads to the production of synapses. This means that the brain produces new connections which facilitate thinking and boost the memory.

Many kinds of mental exercise can be done without special materials and in a very short time. Ideally you should try to integrate brain training into your everyday life – to use spare time when you're waiting for a bus or train for example. Here are a few exercises you may like to try:

• Take a newspaper or magazine and use a highlight pen or ballpoint pen to mark every occurrence of a particular letter on a page. To raise the difficulty level you can record how long the exercise takes and try to beat it the next time. This exercise is great for boosting your concentration.

• Think of a sentence and then try to say it backwards. This will boost your brain's speech centre. Once again you can record how long it takes you to complete the exercise and then try to do it more quickly next time. To make this exercise more difficult you can try to say each word backwards as you say the sentence backwards. It makes no difference whether you say the words out loud or to yourself.

• Boost your concentration and creativity by trying to form a sentence consisting of five words, all of which start with the same letter. Here's an example using the letter "M": "Milk makes moody men merry." This exercise is good for concentration and creativity. To make it more difficult, try to form the sentence as quickly as possible and use more difficult letters (e.g. "Y").

• Bend the thumb, index finger and middle finger of your left hand towards the palm of the hand. At the same time, bend the little finger, thumb and ring finger of your right hand towards the palm. Now try to reverse the finger positions on each hand at the same time. This exercise requires an astonishing level of concentration and coordination. The more quickly you do the exercise, the more difficult it becomes.

• For this exercise you will need a watch/clock and a piece of prose which you have never read before (e.g. a newspaper article, book or brochure). Read as much of the text as you can in two minutes. Now try to recall the text word for word. You can make this exercise even more difficult by trying at the same time to count how often a given word (e.g. "but") appears in the text. This exercise is good for concentration and retentiveness.