healthHave you ever walked into the other room only to immediately forget the reason why? Find yourself losing your keys, wallet, and sunglasses more frequently than ever before? Have you ever…wait, what was I just talking about?

We all want to stay sharp as we get older, and there are plenty of ways to go about improving mental performance. From crossword puzzles and brain-teasers, to reading more and getting plenty of sleep, there’s no shortage of things we can do to keep our minds fresh, alert and active. But it turns out that the best way to flex your mental muscles might be to flex your actual muscles.

It is widely known that physical exercise helpful for things like stress and anxiety relief, insomnia, depression, fatigue and a wide range of physical ailments. But several studies conducted over the past few years have shown that physical exercise is also one of the best things you can do to boost brain function, strengthen memory and increase focus and general mental acuity.

How it works

A number of studies show that exercise assists in the production of a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, and that this protein plays a key role in enhancing memory and aiding in the performance of skilled tasks. And according to John J. Ratey, M.D., author of SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, intervals of intense exercise prompt the natural production of human growth hormone, which actually “pumps up” the volume of your brain and improves its overall performance.

What you can do

The best part about this news is that you can begin benefitting from the brain-boosting power of exercise right away. And you don’t need to join a gym, or start competing in triathlons either. Short intervals of regular exercise that you can do at home will work almost immediately to improve mental performance. Here are a few different ways to get started:

Start slow

If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, as a great many of us do, you might not want to go straight into a rigorous workout regimen. Start by taking 30 minute walks five times a week before work or right when you get home.

Work it into your schedule

One major obstacle that derails most exercise routines is time. Most people want to exercise, but sometimes life is just too busy and hectic to fit it in to the schedule. If you have a fickle schedule that doesn’t allow for a regular daily workout, try to find ways to exercise throughout the day. Walk or ride a bike to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or break up your 30 minute daily workout into two more manageable 15 minute sessions.

Short bursts

Need a quick mental jumpstart before today’s important work meeting? A short, high intensity workout session will quickly increase blood flow to the brain, giving you an instant cognitive boost that you’ll notice right away. Try to get in a high-octane session of running, jumping rope, or any activity that will make you work up a good sweat and get your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes. Doing this an hour before you go in for your meeting, exam, or presentation will give you that little extra edge you’re looking for.

Play your way into a better memory

One great way to trick yourself into exercising is by engaging in an organized sport. The commitment involved in joining a local recreational football, soccer, or softball league can be an excellent motivator for those of us who just can’t seem to make ourselves get up and get moving. Plus, the fun, competitiveness and comradery of organized sports can help take your mind off of the strenuousness of the exercise, so that you hardly even notice you’re working out at all.

As technology continues to make our lives easier, we also seem to be growing more and more stationary, which takes a toll on our bodies and our minds. So no matter how you manage to work a little more exercise into your busy schedule, the important thing is that you do it. It just might be the best thing you can do to fight off forgetfulness and whip your brain into tip-top shape.