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5 ways to train your brain

Brain, brain, don't step away!

By Cosmin ChildPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
5 ways to train your brain
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Is it possible that you’ve misplaced your keys? There are ways to keep your mind sharp and in peak condition, no matter how many times it has to deal with minor setbacks.

There have been times when I’ve gone into my closet and couldn’t remember why I was there in the first place. If you’re in a meeting with your coworkers, why do you sometimes muddle simple sentences or go blank? How can this be, when you’re young and healthy?

Unsettling as they may be, brain blips are completely normal. Fortunately, they are rarely a sign of deteriorating mental health. When we think of youth as the peak of our mental abilities, we tend to think of it as a time of doom and gloom. A more accurate assessment of peak intelligence and ability in the human brain is likely to occur around the time of middle age, when life experiences and decades’ worth of neural connections combine to produce this state.

Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, the founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, says that “we may not learn or recall information quite as quickly as we did in our teens and 20s”. In our 30s, 40s and 50s, we get better at what matters most: making decisions, synthesizing information, and coming up with big ideas.”

When it comes to improving your brain health, it doesn’t matter what your current age is; it’s never too late to start.

Stress and anxiety can cause people to misinterpret normal experiences, such as forgetting an acquaintance’s name, as abnormal (again). According to Chapman, “You probably pay attention to the few things that go wrong, but give your brain credit for the thousands of things it did right.

Forget the occasional slip-up and focus on your daily routines. Today’s actions have a significant impact on whether you are able to perform at your best in the present and whether you develop more serious cognitive deterioration, such as dementia, later in life. Everyday behavior has just as much, if not more, influence on brain function as genetics.

Whether you’re 23 or 63, here are five proven ways to gain a long-term advantage in your mind.

1Make an effort to learn something new, whether it’s a skill or a hobby.

Isn’t it true that doing the crossword and listening to classical music on a weekly basis will help your brain function better? Unfortunately, not nearly as much as you might expect. These habits are certainly more stimulating than zoning out to another Friends marathon, but research suggests that learning something entirely new, whether mental or physical, is a great way to boost brainpower. For example, taking a new yoga class or learning to knit. The more we practice a new skill, the more flexible our brains become and the stronger the neural connections we form between them.

Study findings from the University of Texas at Dallas found that older people who engaged in cognitively demanding activities like quilting and digital photography improved their memory.. On the other hand, there were no benefits for those who listened to classical music, watched classic films, or participated in social activities.

There is new evidence from 2020 that suggests regular deviation from a mundane routine and exposure to a wide range of activities can boost cognitive functioning and slow down the signs of cognitive aging such as memory loss and declines in information processing. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

2 Further investigation is required.

Fusion of old and new information is what your brain does best, so use it as a learning tool. You’ll get back what you put in, says Chapman. As an example, if you already know how to read and enjoy it, now is the time to step it up a notch and get even more out of your favorite pastime (so to speak). Spend some extra time writing a Goodreads review, blog post, or digital journal entry for your own eyes only the next time you finish a great book (a Word or Google doc will do). If you give it some more thought, you might be surprised at what you come up with. Alternatively, grab a pen and a notebook: People who write by hand are better at processing information and remembering what they’re writing about.

3 For your mind, not your body, eat what you need.

What you eat and drink affects your brain as much as your body. Fortunately, good brain nutrition resembles good body nutrition, which simplifies things. Middle-aged and older adults who followed a diet called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) were able to slow down cognitive decline, according to a study published in 2015 by Rush University and the Harvard School of Public Health. After a year of eating this way, they were found to be seven and a half years younger on cognitive tests. According to a press release from Rush University, “Foods and nutrients that affect brain health have been studied thoroughly in this diet. This diet combines elements of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets, hence the name “MIND.””

There are a lot of similarities between the MIND diet and the Mediterranean diet. However, in contrast to the previous strategy, this one recommends daily consumption of leafy greens and at least two weekly servings of berries, both of which are high in antioxidants that help the brain.

4 Regularly work up a sweat, especially when you’re looking for an extra boost.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that exercise improves mood and overall brain health. Researchers have found that exercise is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy. This area of the brain is critical for memory, and previous studies have shown that regular physical activity is linked to increased gray matter in this region in a significant way. The benefits of regular physical activity include stress reduction, an increase in creative thinking, and an increase in one’s sense of self-worth.

Working out on days when you have, for example, a big presentation or a stressful test can give your mind the extra acuity it requires. For example, take a look at this study: According to a Dartmouth College study from 2012, adults who exercised regularly for four weeks and worked out the morning of their memory tests scored better than regular exercisers who skipped their workout on test day. Exercise’s ability to alleviate stress may be a contributing factor: In Chapman’s words, “Stress is toxic to the brain,” he says. “The hippocampus, where memories are stored, releases the hormone cortisol as a result.” This can temporarily impair your memory and, over time, weaken neural connections, increasing your risk of developing dementia.

Don’t skip out on your regular workouts when things aren’t particularly stressful, either! Maintaining a regular fitness regimen has long-term benefits for mental health as well as physical health.

5 Make Sleep a Priority.

In order to reap the full mental and physical health benefits of sleep, adults need a solid seven to nine hours of sleep every night to do so. Sleep is essential for the brain’s ability to perform a variety of functions, including storing and retrieving short- and long-term memories, strengthening and repairing neural connections, and processing emotions. Chapman explains that “the brain processes information and consolidates ideas while you sleep.” It appears that the majority of this occurs between the hours of 6 and 8 a.m. If you miss even one night of sleep, it may take several nights of good sleep to get you back to your usual, clear-headed self. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to a range of mental health issues, including everything from Alzheimer’s disease to depression and anxiety.

Do you have difficulty winding down at night? Before using sleep aids, see a doctor or sleep specialist. Prescription sleeping pills contain active ingredients that can slow down brain waves and make you feel groggy the next day, even if they are safe for occasional use. Sleep medications purchased over the counter (OTC) can also be dangerous. It’s been linked to short-term cognitive impairment by diphenhydramine, an ingredient found in many (that hangover-esque feeling). Even worse, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 found that long-term use of over-the-counter medications was linked to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. See a sleep specialist if you’re having trouble getting enough shut-eye each night to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

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