5 Stretches That Do the Body and Mind Good

exercise mind

Athletes know the importance of pre-workout stretches that keep their bodies limber. Few people, though, apply the same strategy to their brains.

Mental flexibility is about more than keeping the mind ready to perform. As psychologist Wilma Koutstaal put it in her book, The Agile Mind, flexible thinking allows people to identify and solve problems – two keys to success in today’s work world.

It’s the difference between a boss who says, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” and a manager who wonders, “What would happen if we tried this instead?” psychologist Judith C. Tingley explained.

The good news: Koutstaal and Tingley both believe mental flexibility can be improved. Here’s how.

Create a stimulating atmosphere

Surround yourself with magazines, music, and friends. These things are the key to keeping the mind stimulated, and an active brain is a flexible brain.

Read voraciously, and not just your textbooks. Once in a while, when you run across a particularly compelling passage, stop and analyze it. How did the writer make it so effective? It’s a great way to improve writing skills.


If your immediate reaction to something is “no,” stop and ask why. Are you resisting a change just because it’s different? Are you saying “no” because your familiar rut is comfortable? Or is “no” simply your default response?

Ask yourself that “what if” question Tingley proposes. What would happen if you turned the “no” into a “yes”? Then try it.

Throw out the routine

Many a frustrated parent has turned to Eat Dessert First Night to shake a family out of its dinnertime rut. It’s fun, and it’s a mental flexibility exercise that wakes up the brain.

It’s easy to implement, too.

If you usually listen to jazz, switch to bluegrass for an evening. If your customary Friday night out is at a Mexican restaurant, give Thai a try.

The next time you go to the library or bookstore, instead of heading straight for your favorite section, visit another stack and pick a book at random. You might wind up loving it.

Get moving

Studies have shown that any type of physical activity can be brain exercise, even if fitness doesn’t increase. Learn to juggle. Throw a ball against a wall. Play darts. Any of these can boost executive function, the part of our brain that helps us organize and plan.

Aerobic exercise also benefits the brain. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a run along the trails, getting your body moving will stimulate your creativity.

Create random challenges

These exercises pull you out of your usual habits and make you think differently – and thinking different quickly can become a habit.

Try talking for 15 minutes a day without saying I, me, my, or mine. This exercise will be harder than you think, but you’ll emerge stronger because you’ll master the art of thinking about what you’re going to say without sounding silly.

While it might seem challenging for busy adult learners in particular to try these brain-boosters, the beauty of these tips is that they don’t require any extra time.

Most of these ideas are things you’re doing anyway. You’re just reframing them to change your perspective and boost your mental flexibility.


Written by Ashford University staff.

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