It's the part of our body that we most often use, yet it's also the one that we love to neglect and take for granted. As the main processing unit for pretty well everything that we do, you'd think that we'd all be looking for every way possible to take care of it. Yet the majority of us give little to no attention to it, and instead spend a great deal of our free time engaged in things -such as TV -that deteriorate it. (Find out more HERE)
I cannot however completely typecast all of us into this brain-negligence category, as the rise in use of brain training programs -such as Lumosity -shows that some of us do have an interest in staying "mentally sharp."
While recently setting goals for myself for 2015, one keyword that I felt inclined to highlight was intelligence. Once an intellectually sharp student, I now feel like at least some of the knowledge I've gained in experience and understanding of the world has taken the place previously occupied by things such as memory or calculative abilities.
In hopes of restoring or training my brain to make space for it all, I present you with 8 simple ways that we can all stimulate our brain daily:
1. Working Out
A study conducted at the University of Texas in Dallas found that working out as part of an exercise regimen helps aging adults to improve their memory and brain health. The study found that exercisers showed an increase in blood flow to the hippocampus, the region of the brain most directly affected by Alzheimer's disease.(1) If you don't enjoy going to the gym, find a creative way or a partner that can motivate you to exercise regularly.
2. Get Enough Sleep
This may seem like common sense, yet we live in a world where many of us depend on temporary stimulants (coffee, energy drinks) rather than rework our schedules to incorporate enough shut eye. It's during sleep that our body and mind regenerates itself, making it critical that you receive an adequate amount nightly if you want to stay mentally sharp.
3. Read Rather Than Watch
Neuroscientists recently conducted a study at Emory University which looked at the brain benefits of reading fiction. Researchers found that becoming engaged in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves functionality.(2) Reading encourages us to imagine the fictional reality being presented to us in words, rather than passively having it all given to us.
4. Stop Depending On Your Smartphone
As the name suggests, smartphone's certainly can give us the answer to nearly everything, but that doesn't mean that we have to turn to them for everything. Need to get somewhere? Challenge yourself to memorize the directions, and as you travel, work on building a spatial recognition of where you are. Need to calculate something? Try figuring it out either in your head or on some good old fashioned paper, remind yourself of how exactly long division even works.
5. Memorize The Unnecessary
I recently had a comical conversation with an old friend of mine where we compared how many of our friend's home phone numbers we still remembered from our elementary school days. The good old days where if I wanted to call my friend, I'd have to dial his home phone number and ask whoever answered "Hi, can I please speak to _____?" Just because we don't need to memorize these things anymore, doesn't mean we can't challenge ourselves to. Start by picking things where memorization may come in handy -such as your credit card number or the phone numbers of your closest friends -and expand into anything else you feel that you are ready to be challenged by.
6. Check Your Diet
Despite being on average only 2% of our body weight, our brains take in more than 20% of our daily energy intake -meaning the food choices you make have a substantial impact on your brain functionality.(3) As always look to make healthy choices within your regular diet. Certain foods such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, avocados, and berries have all been linked to brain health.
7. Listen To & Play Music
Research from the University of Kansas Medical Center showed that having musical training and listening to or playing music can help keep the brain healthy as it ages.(4) If listening to music, connect to how it makes you feel, and find the genres or artists that stimulate your creativity and improve your mood. If playing an instrument, don't let the skill go out of practice. Find ways to incorporate playing music into your regular life, regardless of your talent level.
8. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Coincidentally, so do new neural pathways. Routines can be great for keeping yourself organized or to ensure you make enough time daily to take care of your brain -amongst other things. But don't forget to expand your life and your mind by trying something new. It could be as simple and small as trying a new route to get home, or it could be as expansive as trying something you've always been terrified of. Give your brain the opportunity to forge new connections to go alongside the ones that you are also helping it maintain.