When it comes to your brain, “Use it or lose it” should be your mantra. Brain pathways, composed of electrochemical messages between neurons, are developed before birth. The more you use your brain, the better established and reorganized these connections become. And the more neurons you stimulate, the better your brain becomes at incorporating new information while remembering older information as well. Here are the key things that boost brain power!
1. Do Puzzles
To stay mentally sharp and nimble, you have to keep challenging your brain. Solve crosswords, jigsaw and rebus (word picture) puzzles. Play verbal games such as seeing how many words you can create from one longer word. Problem-solving games improve mental agility and help you see things in new and different ways. Brain exercise generates new neurons and helps fight the decline of mental function once thought to be an inevitable part of aging.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Can what you eat make you smarter? Scientists think so. Researchers have found that eating fish speeds up brain waves and improves concentration. Olive oil has been shown to improve memory. Both fish and olive oil contain healthy, omega-3 rich fats that help keep arteries clear so nutrients reach the brain. Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, too. In a 2006 Chicago study, older men and women who ate more than two servings of veggies a day measured about five years younger in mental acuity after six years, compared with people who ate few or no vegetables. The key is to eat healthy over your lifetime — so start now!
Would you be surprised to know that more than 75% of Americans eat less than the USDA’s recommendation to have at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day?
3. Check Your Iron
Getting adequate levels of iron is important for your brain as well as your body. Your body needs iron to produce red blood cells, which in turn carry vital oxygen to all your cells. Studies show that iron deficiency, a risk for women during childbearing years, can dramatically affect concentration and memory. If you think you might be anemic, ask your doctor to check your iron levels.
Good dietary sources of iron to boost brain power include fortified breakfast cereals; whole grains; lean meats, fish and poultry; spinach, kale and other green leafy vegetables; eggs; beans and soybeans. Pro tip: Vitamin C improves iron absorption, but calcium may decrease it. Be sure to eat dairy products or take your calcium supplement at a different meal to get the full benefit of all nutrients.
4. Learn a New Language
Thinking about traveling to an exotic location? Why not learn a new language to make your trip even more rewarding. You’ll enjoy a more authentic experience and slow age-related cognitive decline at the same time.
Other languages also introduce you to new ways of thinking. For instance, in English we say we “are afraid”, whereas in French it’s we “have fear”. Doesn’t that sound as though English-speakers feel that fear is a quality that defines them — whereas the French regard fear as an outside event that happens to them?
5. Sleep Better to Boost Brain Power
Ever noticed you don’t think as clearly after a sleepless night? It’s absolutely essential to rest your body and brain. Yet at the same time, your brain is very active when you’re asleep — processing and storing information received during the day. Lack of sleep affects your mood, memory, ability to pay attention, reasoning and even motor dexterity. Make sure your bedroom is comfortably cool and dark, and aim to go to bed at the same time every night.
6. Keep a Journal
Memorializing the day’s events through writing is a great brain-building activity. First, it helps you remember what happened and decide what was important, reinforcing those memories. Writing also provides a creative outlet that helps you clarify your thinking, sift through your mental thesaurus to choose the right words, and improve your analytic ability. If a journal isn’t your thing, try writing essays or poetry to capture your emotions.
7. Maximize Down Time
Standing in line, stuck in traffic or sitting in a waiting room? Use this time to develop your brain! Get a book-on-tape from your public library and listen to it when you’re in the car. Carry a book of short stories in your purse or pocket. Or make mental lists to build your memory: think of all the details of a memorable event — what you wore, ate, the color of the flowers — or all the movies a favorite actor has starred in. Then pat yourself on the back, because you just helped your body boost brain power.
8. Go For the Burn
Exercise gets your heart pumping, sending oxygen-rich blood to your brain and other organs. Research shows that cognitive function improves after only ten minutes of aerobic exercise. But even before you work out, take deep breaths–more air in means more oxygen for your brain. Deep breaths also help you relax, which is conducive to clear thinking.
9. Foster Creativity
If you think “creativity” only means being an artist, musician or writer, you’re missing out. Creative thinking is a way of problem solving that finds new approaches to something familiar. Begin by brainstorming — listing random ideas without stopping to evaluate them as good or bad. Try these five techniques to develop your own “out of the box” solutions:
- Become an expert: The more you know about a topic, the easier it is to imagine what others may not
- Be curious: Ask questions. They often reveal answers
- Take risks: Don’t be afraid to do or say something “silly”!
- Build confidence: Don’t reject your ideas too soon. They may lead to other, better thoughts
- Make time for creativity: try new recipes; plant something unfamiliar; stop to observe your surroundings. Picture yourself living a creative life… and you will be!
10. Listen to Mozart
Did you know that listening to music (but not just any music!) could make you smarter? Numerous studies have examined the so-called “Mozart Effect”. Among its many benefits believed to have a molecular basis:
- Improved learning and memory
- Higher test scores, including IQ
- Shorter, more efficient learning time
- Fewer errors
- Calmness in hyperactive adults and children
- Greater clarity and creativity
Staying mentally active will keep you at your healthy best for years to come. You’ll not only boost brain power and improve your short-term memory and concentration, but also create mental reserves to help guard against future problems.