Strategies for Staying Sane: Exercising Your Brain

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Molly, whom we met in the previous vignette, doesn’t know it, but she could employ several specific methods to better balance her perceptions. When a friend suggested some options for her, she said, “I’m satisfied being who I am. Besides, it’s hard to change! So what if others are concerned?”


Molly is right in one respect: It often takes some effort to attain mental equilibrium, just as it requires physical exercise to acquire and maintain a healthy body. But, as can be seen from the following account, there are methods that are straightforward and not difficult to implement.

Everyone knows that physical fitness benefits a lot from exercise. But how about mental fitness? Well, research has shown that physical fitness and emotional health go hand in hand. Cardiovascular benefits from exercise, for example, may help forestall degenerative changes in the brain. But let’s talk specifically about exercising the brain or the mind.

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Like good physical functioning, the essence of brain power is movement. Regular exercise, mental calisthenics, make the mind more alert and agile and ward off the aging process. There is even evidence to suggest that people who keep mentally active late in life by stimulating and challenging their intellectual abilities have a lower incidence of memory disorders including Alzheimer’s disease.

Each time you learn something new, even a single new word, the qualities of the nerve cell endings change and nerve impulse transmission is enhanced.

You’ve heard it said that we only use a small fraction of our potential brainpower over the course of our lifetime. Be that as it may, there is clear evidence that brain function is remarkably changeable and that we possess enormous capacities for new learning. This is called neuroplasticity.

There are almost as many brain or mind exercises as there are physical or muscle building programs. Here are several common activities: studying languages; vocabulary building; mental games of every conceivable type; sculpture and/or painting. There are even several informal, everyday ways of exercising your mind. For example, the next time you are stuck in traffic or are at the checkout line of a supermarket,

• Actively study the environment, deliberately focusing on the people, places, and objects that are within your vision.

• Enter a room and carefully notice the number of people, the clothes they are wearing, the placement of furniture and other objects.

• Write down everything you remember from an event you attend. Games—such as bridge, chess, checkers, crossword puzzles— will keep your brain active.

• For best results, move your body—that is exercise, stretch, take walks—as well as challenging your brain.

Here’s a final tip. Monotonous and repetitive work is not a good brain or mind exercise. Get some variety and stimulation.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus & Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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