8 Apps to Help Keep Your Brain Sharp This Year

Using apps to manage stress, help you sleep and give your brain a workout are all important ways to keep your brain sharp.
Image Credit: Charday Penn/E+/GettyImages

Everybody wants to keep their brain sharp, especially as it lowers the risk of cognitive disease as you get older. But how do you do it? Well, just like the body, the key to brain health is plenty of exercise.


"Our brains must be constantly worked out to stay sharp," says Alexa Sokolov, LMSW, a social worker at Total Healing Centers. "Neurons connect to each other through a vast memory highway," she explains. "Those signals diminish over time and keeping them alive is how we work out our brain, which often refers to neuroplasticity."

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Some of the traditional ways to give your brain a workout include reading, doing crossword puzzles or learning a new language. But, in the digital age, you've also got a plethora of apps to choose from.

"An easy way to ensure your neurons stay firing on all cylinders is with the use of the new emerging apps," Sokolov says. "They are easy to use, can fit into any schedule and can be quite fun."

And the best part is that these apps can help your brain in different ways, whether it's by keeping it active or helping it rest, which is why a combo of two to three apps is advised by our experts. Here are eight of the best apps to keep your brain sharp.


Best Apps to Help Keep Your Brain Sharp

  • Best Overall:‌ Luminosity
  • Best for Communication Skills:‌ Elevate
  • Best for Ease of Use:‌ NeuroNation
  • Best for Tracking Progress:‌ CogniFit
  • Best for Cognition Support:‌ BrainHQ
  • Best for Managing Stress:‌ Calm
  • Best for Meditations:‌ Headspace

How We Chose

To come up with this list, we asked licensed psychologists and sleep specialists for their recommendations. We chose the apps to keep your brain sharp based on their recommendations and other criteria, including:

  • Price
  • Variety
  • Consumer reviews


1. Best Overall: Luminosity

"This app offers games that target different areas of cognitive function, including memory, processing speed, attention and flexibility," says Heather Wilson, LCSW, the executive director at Epiphany Wellness. "This will help keep your mind sharp and agile by giving it a regular workout."

Consumer reviews say the app has over 40 games and has really helped users hone their problem-solving skills and keep their minds occupied in a fun and healthy way. The only downside is that you get a limited amount of games with the free version.


Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price: ‌Free to download and use a limited, basic version. The premium version costs $11.99/month or $59.99/year.

2. Best for Communication Skills: Elevate

"This app is similar to Luminosity but focuses on language skills such as grammar, reading comprehension and writing," Wilson says. "This will help improve your communication skills and keep your mind sharp."


Elevate offers a free seven-day trial as well as a basic free version. Users say the games on this app really helped them refine their math and writing skills, but some complained that the interface can be a little frustrating to figure out at first.


Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price: ‌This app is free to download and offers a seven-day free trial and a free basic version. Pricing varies; an annual Elevate subscription is $39.99.

3. Best for Ease of Use: NeuroNation

"This app offers cognitive training exercises that are based on scientific research," Wilson says. "It includes games and activities that target different areas of the brain, such as memory, concentration and problem-solving."

It's got over 30 games to train your brain, and users rave about the detailed, clear instructions that make it easy to use.


Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price‌: The app is free to download and offers a free trial. Pricing plans vary; there are three-month plans from $41.99 and an annual subscription starts at $83.99.

4. Best for Tracking Progress: CogniFit

"This app offers a range of cognitive exercises that can help to improve memory, attention and executive function," Wilson says. "It also provides insights into your cognitive performance so that you can see how you are progressing. This will help you identify any areas that need improvement and work on them."

The patented system offers a personalized approach to brain training and even lets you assess your cognitive age. Users wrote that the games are engaging, but the app can be a little glitchy.


Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price: ‌You can download the basic version for free. Monthly ($19.99/mo) and annual ($119.99/yr) subscription packages are available.

5. Best for Cognition Support: BrainHQ

Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a child psychologist and advisor at Apollo Neuro, recommends this app because it "has excellent scientific research behind it, and can be easily incorporated into daily life."

"This app has a variety of games and tasks that address many different areas of brain function, which ensures people are supporting all aspects of cognition," she says. "These activities work because they focus on specific skills, at the right level of challenge, with repetition built-in. All of these components have been shown in the research to benefit brain function over time."


Users who have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairments seem particularly happy with this one, though some complained it was too inconsistent.

Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price: ‌Downloading the app is free, and offers a free exercise every day. Full access is available via subscription at a rate of $13.99/month or $94.99/year.

6. Best for Managing Stress and Falling Asleep: Calm

"This app offers meditation exercises that can help to reduce stress and improve focus and concentration," Wilson says. "This will help you to be more productive and efficient in your thinking."

Meditating on a regular basis can help people maintain their cognitive abilities later on in life, per a March 2018 longitudinal study in the ‌Journal of Cognitive Enhancement‌. With lots of soothing audiovisual content like rain on a window and cozy campfires, as well as bedtime stories read by popular celebrities, Calm is highly rated as an app for meditation.

Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price: ‌The Calm app is free to download. Subscriptions are available for $14.99/month or $69.99/year.

7. Best for Meditations: Headspace

"This app is also focused on meditation but with a slightly different approach," Wilson says. "It offers guided meditations that can help you to focus on the present moment and clear your mind of distractions. This will help you to think more clearly and make better decisions."

The popular app has both one-off meditations for specific stressors like going on a job interview or a flight, as well as courses on more long-term goals like dealing with grief or finding more meaning and purpose in life.

Participants who used the app regularly for eight weeks reported reduced job strain and higher levels of overall wellbeing, per a February 2019 study in the ‌Journal of Occupational Health Psychology‌.

Download the app:iOS | Android | Website

Price:‌ This app is free to download, and there's a free basic version. Subscriptions are available for $12.99 per month or $69.99 per year.

Non-App Tips for Keeping Your Brain Sharp

Of course, using an app isn't the only path toward a healthy brain. Try these strategies (no electronics required!) too:


Be a Lifelong Learner

As we said before, if you want to keep your mind sharp, you have to exercise it. So never stop learning! That could mean learning a new language, mastering a new skill, watching documentaries or reading books and articles.

"Basically, you have to find ways to keep your brain challenged and engaged," Wilson says.

Participate in Lively Conversation and Friendly Debate

"Instead of only engaging in small talk and idle gossip, have conversations about fascinating thoughts and ideas," Wilson says. "When you engage in discussion with others, you have to think on your feet, come up with quick responses and defend your point of view. This is a great exercise for your brain."

Plus, it's also fun, and a great way to expand your mind and form a bond with someone.

Play Mind-Challenging Games

Chess, bridge, Sudoku, crosswords or even trivia night at your local bar can be a fun way to keep your mind engaged in your spare time, according to Wilson.

Write Frequently

Writing down your thoughts is a great way to exercise your mind and it can be quite soothing as well.

Wilson recommends journaling to recall what you did on a particular day, as this will help train your memory by making you remember specific details from start to finish. You can also try writing down new ideas, thoughts or plans, which can help you to organize your thoughts and cultivate your imagination. (Try these guided journals.)

Get Enough Sleep

"Many people underestimate the importance of sleep in keeping their minds sharp," Wilson says. "When you don't get enough sleep, your brain has no chance to rest and rejuvenate, leading to memory problems and difficulty concentrating."

So, make sure you're getting some proper shut-eye!

Move Your Body

Physical activity can also fortify your brain as you age. In fact, regular exercise lowers your risk for cognitive decline and dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC recommends adults partake in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise), along with at least two strength-building activities. If you're 65 or older, the CDC also recommends doing balance-focused exercises three days a week.




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