Fun and Playful Memory Activities for Adults

Learn how climbing trees and doing obstacle courses can improve your working memory.

A tree that can be climbed as an activity that can promote memory

Researchers have found that some of the best memory activities for adults include climbing, balancing, and more. Learn how to improve your working memory with these fun, physically demanding activities.

When I was young, we had a huge cedar tree in front of our house. My two brothers and I loved that tree, as it seemed to be made for climbing. It was the perfect play tree; in it we built platforms, played games, and continually found new routes up the limbs.

Now that I am adult, however, tree climbing has become a thing of the past. As we grow up, most of us stop doing these sorts of classic, childhood activities. Instead of playing for exercise, we now go to the gym or go out for a run. But it may be time to revive some of your favorite childhood pastimes.

Researchers have found that some of the best memory activities for adults include climbing, balancing, and more. Learn how to improve your working memory with these fun, physically demanding activities.

What is Working Memory?

Working memory refers to the way we process and recall information. It describes the structures and processes in our brain that help us to temporarily remember information, so that we can use that information while completing an activity.[1]

Our working memory helps us follow a recipe without adding ingredients twice, hold numbers in our head to complete a math problem, remember all of the items on our grocery list while shopping, and follow instructions for a game. Working memory has been associated with positive academic outcomes, higher reading abilities, and higher IQ scores, among other benefits.[2]

The Link Between Working Memory And Climbing A Tree

A study published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills in June 2015 looked at whether working memory could be improved by propioceptively demanding activities.[2]

Proprioception is defined as awareness of body orientation and positioning. Propriocetively demanding activities, therefore, are those that challenge us to use this awareness, such as balancing or doing an obstacle course.

The researchers looked at the effects of two hours of proprioceptively demanding activities on working memory in adults aged 18 to 59 years old. During the session, the participants did physical activities that focused on four areas: balance, awareness of relative position of body parts, locomotive awareness, and awareness of strength of effort.

Activities included walking on a balance beam backwards and forwards, navigating under and over 3-foot-high bars, crawling so that the left hand and left knee moved at the same time, carrying a kettle ball on one shoulder, shifting between rounded backs to concave chests, and more.

After the session, working memory was tested again, and the researchers found some incredible results; working memory capacity had increased by 50%. Working memory did not improve in the two control groups, where participants either did yoga or sat in a classroom for a two-hour lecture of new information.

In just a very short time, the adults in the study who climbed, balanced, and more saw a significant increase in working memory.

Activities to Try Yourself to Promote Working Memory

Tree climbing helps build strength and coordination while improving working memory.
Build a backyard obstacle course to challenge your mind and your body.
Balancing on one foot helps keep core muscles strong and memory sharp.
Visit a climbing gym to strengthen muscles and memory.
Trying to walk or crawl with the same hand and foot going forward at the same time challenges muscle memory.
Walking forward and backwards on a narrow log can help build sightless memory.
Focus on postural memory by carrying a heavy object on one side while keeping the spine straight.
Walk or run barefoot, remembering what it feels like as your feet touch the ground.
Slacklining is a great test of balance, core strength and proprioception.

So how can you use these results to your advantage? When you need a mental boost, such as during long hours of work, between classes, or before a test or presentation, break up your routine. Try some of these fun, physically challenging, and propioceptively demanding memory activities for adults:

  • Climb a tree
  • Make an obstacle course in your yard or home
  • Balance on one foot
  • Visit a climbing gym
  • Try to walk and crawl with the same hand and foot going forward at the same time
  • Walk forward and backwards on a fallen log or other narrow object
  • Carry a heavy object on one side of our body while maintaining straight posture
  • Run barefoot while thinking deliberately about the way your feet land on the ground
  • Give slacklining a try (a popular activity like tight rope walking)

My favorites of these options are going to a climbing gym and slacklining. They are fun, social activities that challenge your body in a different way than normal; they certainly both require a lot of coordination and awareness of your body. And now that I know that they might help improve my working memory, too, I’ll be sure to make an effort to do them more often.

What activities from the list are your favorites? Which ones would you like to try? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[1] Prog Brain Res. 2008; 169: 323–338.
[2] Percept Mot Skills. 2015 Jun;120(3):766-75.

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UHN Staff

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