Challenge the brain

Challenge the brain to stimulate new neural pathways

Math: my old enemy

Maybe math was never your enemy … maybe you loved math since your first tiny addition problem, written in crayon at the kitchen table. For some people, however catching a glimpse of the Pythagorean Theorem charges that same place in the brain where we process scares from creepy things like snakes and spiders. (1) Love it or hate it, however, math is one great way to engage the brain.


A brain primer

Your amazing brain contains around 100 billion nerve cells called neurons, which transmit electrochemical signals from sensory inputs (that stove is hot!) to motor outputs (move the hand!). These cells are organized into complex “circuits,” or neural pathways, that can change and rewire to adapt to new circumstances. (2)

Our brains generate new brain cells and make new neural connections throughout life. Between ages 30 and 40, however, we start to slowly lose brain volume. (3) Challenging the brain stimulates the creation of new nerve pathways (4) and helps keep us sharp as we age. (5)


Challenging the little grey cells

Math games, including mental math like our counting challenge, online math games and logic puzzles like Sudoku are great mental stimulation, but why stop there? Find tasks that challenge the brain on many levels, such as:

  • Learn a musical instrument or a foreign language
  • Chess, bridge and Stratego are excellent games for mental stimulation. (4)   
  • Adopt a challenging hobby
  • Learn a new skill
  • Take (or teach) a class


One link in the chain

A certain sugar cereal commercial of yesteryear advertised that its product was “part of a complete breakfast,” along with toast, milk and juice. Engaging the brain with math and other challenging intellectual exercises is part of a complete package of behaviors that lead to brain health. Key ways to maintain brain health include:

  • Mental stimulation
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption
  • Exercise
  • Maintain strong social connections

[Source: UC Davis Medical Center and Harvard Health Publications]


Read about brain health

Snakes, spiders and scorpions, oh my!: Math anxiety and your brain on fear

Need more math challenges?



Imaging study reveals differences in brain function for children with math anxiety. Stanford Medicine News Center. Accessed Sep 9 2016.

  1. Digitale E. Brain facts: A primer on the brain and nervous system. A companion to Accessed Sep 9 2016.
  2. Dept of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. Accessed Sep 9 2016.
  3. Beck M. ‘Neurobics’ and other brain boosters. The Wall Street Journal. Jun 3 2008.
  4. Maintaining cognitive health. UC Davis Medical Center. Accessed Sep 9 2016.
  5. Maintaining cognitive health. UC Davis Medical Center. Accessed Sep 9 2016.
  6. 12 ways to keep your brain young. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed Sep 9 2016.
Dana Vaughan

About Dana Vaughan

Dana completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) at San Diego State University, and has worked in family planning education, prenatal counseling, and child development. She loves her mountain bike, her husband, her kids, and her faith—although possibly not in that order.

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