4 Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Share this post:

Vacation lowers your IQ

Summer is my favorite season and it’s the time of the year known for vacations. It’s up to us how to spend them – but most of us, at least in the northern hemisphere end up soaking in a lot of sun. Research shows that downtime, especially in hot places and especially with the intake of alcohol can make you dumber. The explanation is that inactivity in combination with dehydration reduces the amount of oxygen going to the brain which in its turn lowers our IQ as much as by 20 points. This information is based on the study by the specialists in mental performance at the University of Erlangen in Germany.

What does it mean to us? Does it mean that omitting our much-deserved vacation is the only alternative to getting dumber by the minute? We cannot skip vacations because addiction to work can cost us dearly in burnout and other effects detrimental to our health and well-being. Staying hooked up to work emails during the holidays is not a desirable option either. Here are some tips recommended by scientists for keeping our brains active during our off time:

Counting is good for memory

One of the recommended exercises is counting backward from 100 to 1, or better yet, counting backward by threes – such as 100, 97, 94, etc. If you are not a numbers person, you can word chain where each new word starts with the last letter of the previous word or any variation of this game. Many people like crossword puzzles. But if you are really good at solving those puzzles routinely, Russian psychologist Maria Falikman does not recommend relying on them for training your brain. If you find yourself ready to spew out the capital of Uruguay at any given moment, she warns, your brain must have saturated with the crossword puzzles and you are already accustomed to the underlying principle behind all of them. In this case, they are no longer serving you as a tool to keep your brain sharp.

Drawing is like fitness for the brain.

During the normal course of life, we mainly work with symbols such as numbers and letters. When we draw, on the other hand, we get those parts of our brain busy that are responsible for holding and transforming images. This way we unleash our creativity and improve our spatial awareness.  Just like we go to the gym to exercise those muscles that get otherwise overlooked,  drawing becomes a special fitness for our brain. Unless of course, you are an artist, who already draws for a living.


Foreign Languages

Scientists tell us that learning new languages is great for exercising memory and creating new connections in it. I can’t tell that I spend my downtime with textbooks in my hands, but I do use vacations for practicing my foreign language skills learning from the locals, wherever  I find myself . You don’t have to ace an entire new language – I usually find that people are grateful for any amount of effort you put in speaking their language. I myself get very excited when I see a foreign individual trying to learn any of my languages.

Playing Chess

Numerous sources confirm that playing chess exercises your brain by unleashing your creativity, strategic thinking and problem-solving powers in an ever-changing setting. All of the above is what we need at work, so keeping these skills sharp will keep you in a good mental shape, ready to take on any work challenges upon your return to your place of business.

The good news is – to play this ancient game on your vacation you don’t have to lug around a box of chess figures or be stuck at the computer screen due to the lack of game partners. These days things are made easier, more social and more interesting as more and more large cities introduce large chess sets on public boards outdoors where there is no lack of opponents, supporters or even spectators.  I took this photo of the chess set on the Seaside Boulevard in Baku Azerbaijan during my visit this summer.

By no means, you have to limit yourself to the above activities. You may find many other interesting and fun ways to keep your brain sharp and your IQ high while enjoying a mojito in a swim-up bar on your next getaway. Please share in the comments what you like to do in order to keep yourself sharp while getting the much-deserved rest from your normal work routine.


Share this post:

You may also like


  1. This is a very nice article to remind how to stay sharp and productive. An eyebrows-raiser. Thank you so much.

  2. Very interesting, Natella! After being busy at work most of the year you look forward to your vacation during which you can spend precious time relaxing and not thinking about work. And I am not an exception. Of all listed above ways of boosting your brain I’d choose learning a new language. You are not only working your brain memorizing new words and grammar, but also getting closer to the culture of the country the language of which you are learning. The best part is to be able to communicate with the native speakers.

    1. I agree with you Melissa. Even though I don’t speak too many foreign languages, I like to learn and I like to make an effort to use it with the locals. To me the best way to vacation is an active vacation when I can get involved with the locals and learn about their way of life straight from them. That’s when the knowledge of their language gets handy!

  3. Summer vacation always seems to provide new and creative ways to occupy my time and keep my mind and body engaged. During our most recent trip to Mayne Island I really enjoyed the process of chopping and stacking firewood as we stockpile for the winter months to come. Some may think of it as a mindless task but in reality, it’s a task that requires a full mind-body connection. It starts with selecting a piece from the pile and swinging it up to the block. Giving it a quick spin to analyze the grain and identify the best striking point for that first swing of the axe. Taking aim, winding up, and hearing that triumphant crack when the wood splits and the axe sinks into the block. Once the firewood is all split it then needs to be stacked. Creating a three dimensional puzzle of firewood is another method of working your mind and body towards a most satisfying result when the job is done. No emails, no text messages, no phone calls. Just me and my trusty axe.

    1. I have never seen such a detailed and vivid description of such a seemingly mundane task! As a kid I’ve seen people chop and stack wood as we were stocking up on it for the winter in my Grandma’s house. But to be honest mostly people did make it seem as a necessary chore, no more. Speaking now about body-mind connection you are so right – there is a lot involved in coordinating your calculations with your moves. Definitely keeps you physically busy and mentally involved at the same time. Thank you for sharing Jason!

  4. Doing math assignments in my teenage daughter’s math book helps me keep my brain sharp 🙂

      1. Every time I helped my daughter with her Math homework she mentioned that the way I show how to solve math problems is not the same as how her teachers explained it. So we realized the methods differ between the modern day North American Math curriculum and how they taught us during my Soviet childhood. So my teachings create more confusion, than clarity. And that’s how I had to move on to other ways of keeping my brain sharp. 🙂