The concept of ‘strengthening your brain’ can seem abstract and hard to grasp. But, we forget that the brain is a muscle just like all the other muscles in our body. And just like them, the brain needs regular workouts to remain fit and healthy.
Why Strengthen The Brain?
Researchers and scientists are all abuzz with trying to find ways to prevent cognitive decline. This decline normally occurs when neural pathways in the brain remain unused and eventually deteriorate. This breakdown, combined with aging, can contribute to the development of diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. In other words, when it comes to the brain, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Exercising the brain regularly helps in the formation of new neural pathways and connections between synapses. Regular use of these pathways helps prevents their decay. Here are some ways to keep your brain active.
1. Challenge Yourself
There are plenty of brain teasers and puzzles out there that you can choose from. These can range from crosswords to Sudoku, riddles, or even trivia. Just make sure that whatever it is that you do, the level of difficulty has to be where you have to really think before arriving at a solution. If you find yourself breezing through the activity, try to find a version with an advanced level of difficulty.
2. Exercise Regularly
Here is one instance where the mind-body balance comes into play. Your physical fitness and mental fitness are tied together. Daily physical exercise requires the use of motor skills and builds hand-eye coordination. Both of these tasks require your brain to be in control of your body’s actions.
3. Learn Something New
Finding a new hobby or skill can help form new synaptic connections as your brain learns new things. Pick up an instrument or learn a new language. Try to learn a new challenging piece of music. Force your brain to do things that it’s not used to doing. This is the key to forming new pathways and associations in your brain.
Your mind is constantly working, thinking of to-do lists, logistics, and handling stress and anxiety. Set apart time each day to clear your mind. You can practice simple meditation or try yoga poses and breathing exercises. If you find yourself unable to concentrate on a task, meditating for some time can help you come back to it with more focus.
5. Get Enough Sleep
By this, we mean good quality sleep! Each cycle of sleep contributes in some way to learning and memory building. When you are sleep deprived, your ability to concentrate and pay attention is compromised. This makes it harder to acquire new information and retain it in your memory. During the sleep cycle, the neural connections that form our memories are consolidated. In other words, the better quality sleep you get, the better you will be able to retain information and recall it when required.1.
6. Eat More Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be important for memory and general brain performance.2 It may have a protective effect on brain function which means that it can help prevent some level of cognitive decline.3 Foods that are rich in omega-3 include:4
- fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- flax seeds
- green, leafy vegetables
- pumpkin seeds
7. Be Social
Studies have shown that the more social you are, the slower the rate of your memory decline. Although the mechanics are not clear, researchers have found that being more socially active can mean great news for your memory.5
8. Avoid Excess Alcohol
One glass of red wine a day is known to be beneficial, but any more than that may not be the wisest decision to make. Prolonged, excessive drinking has been linked to serious and persistent brain damage. Most alcoholics suffer a deficiency of thiamine which is an essential nutrient for brain function.6
9. Join A Reading Group
Yes, reading on its own also stimulates the mind, but a reading group keeps you accountable. In the age of smartphones and tablets, you might find it difficult to pick up a novel and stick with it. With an organized reading group, you’re more likely to broaden your usual reading list and be more social. Questions are an important aspect of reading groups. This means that your analytical and memory skills are more thoroughly exercised compared to a scenario where you pick up a book on your own, finish it(if you ever even do), and move on.
When it comes to the human body, you could argue that the brain is one of your most precious assets. Prevent it from decay and deterioration with regular activity.
|↑1||Sleep, Learning, and Memory. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑2, ↑4||Omega-3 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center|
|↑3||Robinson, Jennifer G., Nkechinyere Ijioma, and William Harris. “Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function in women.” Women’s Health 6, no. 1 (2010): 119-134.|
|↑5||Active social life may delay memory loss among U.S. elderly population. Harvard School Of Public Health|
|↑6||Alcohol’s Damaging Effects On The Brain. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism|