Cognitive exercises are activities that encourage the brain to work and maintain itself, much in the same way that physical exercises stimulate muscles. Some brain exercises are targeted to improve the mind in a specific way, while others more generally address mental function. Overall cognitive fitness can often be maintained by a variety of stimulating activities, such as learning a language, playing chess, or even dancing. Specific brain fitness must often be maintained by special exercises that target the area of the brain that has been damaged or is receding. The essential unifying theory of cognitive exercises, as diverse as they may be, is that activities that stimulate the mind help it to continue working, while a mind that grows stagnant from lack of use will experience a decreased ability to function.
Brain teasers are simple cognitive exercises that stimulate the brain. Usually, a brain teaser takes a short amount of time to figure out and is deceptively simple in its presentation. It may be framed as a word problem or a picture problem. It is possible to buy sets of brain teasers that can be worked on daily to stimulate the mind.
Memory tasks also stimulate the mind. Practicing memory is one of the best ways to improve memory overall. There are many cognitive exercises that use simple games to stimulate the mind and promote memory skills.
While cognitive exercises can be performed like going to the gym, setting aside a specific time to work on these tasks, it is often better to integrate a larger stimulating program into one's life. For instance, learning a language or playing chess are both activities that function as cognitive exercises, and both involve extended commitments to the activity. Learning a language requires daily practice, and the challenge of the language can help a person stay committed to the project, thus improving brain fitness naturally. Playing chess often involves other people, and competition can drive a person to work harder at a project, improving brain fitness even more.
People who are worried about loss of cognitive fitness may attempt to train the brain with specific cognitive exercises, but this is really only useful in a clinical setting. Most people experience much more relevant and generalized improvements in cognitive function by simply engaging in stimulating activities that are enjoyable. Activities as diverse as painting and rock climbing can function as brain exercises. Brain fitness is less about specific exercises and more about overall stimulation that should be accomplished the most enjoyable way possible in order to maintain morale.