By Bahram Dideban, MD (@itsbdmd)
They say spot training is impossible — if you want washboard abs, sit-ups and crunches will pale in comparison to a proper diet and regular exercise. And while that might be true for the majority of your anatomy, it turns out that there is one vital organ that you can spot train — your brain.
And here’s some more good news — many of the traditional things that are beneficial for the rest of your body (like exercise and nutrition) can also boost your brainpower. Give your mind an extra surge with this non-exhaustive list of tips and tricks, designed to keep your thinking machine razor-sharp.
1. Hit The Gym
Research, experts, and personal trainers will all tell you that physical exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Not only does the process regulate multiple hormones in the body, but it also helps to stimulate your mind.
2. Stress Less, Sleep More
Stress hormones are detrimental to the anatomy of the brain. They can destroy brain cells, especially in the hippocampus (the area involved in memory), and have other indirect brain-stumping effects like fatigue, insomnia, concentration, inattention, and memory. Though researchers are continuing to explore the mystery of sleep, a few very interesting things have been discovered. A primary one is that sleep is absolutely essential for memory consolidation, which means that you retain material much better after a good night’s sleep.
3. Decrease Saturated Fats and Total Calories
Studies show that diets high in saturated fats (commonly found in food sources like red meats, whole dairy, cheese, and ice cream) have a detrimental effect on memory and increase your chances of developing diseases like dementia and concentration impairment. The same is true of diets that are excessively high in calories, especially later in life.
4. Eat More Fruits, Veggies, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your brain needs a lot of energy! Even though it only composes about two per cent of your body mass, this thinking organ snags about one-fifth of your overall stamina. And the higher the metabolic activity of a body part, the more likely it is to benefit from antioxidants, so add more to your diet when you can. Some great natural sources are green leafy vegetables, walnuts, flaxseed, tofu, soy milk, soybeans, broccoli, kidney beans, and squash. Studies also show a similar brain-boosting benefit to omega-3-rich foods like fish and other seafood.
5. Drink Green Tea and Wine
Green tea contains polyphenols, while wine (especially red wine) contains polyphenols, flavonoids, and resveratrol, all of which offer additional antioxidants that can play a key role in keeping your head healthy.
6. Learn a New Skill
Thanks to a phenomenon known as neuro-plasticity, the brain has a remarkable ability to constantly change, adapt, and learn new things, even later in life. The best brain workouts adhere to three simple rules:
• They’re new.
• They’re challenging.
• They’re fun.
Really, you can pick almost anything — a new language, musical instrument, writing, playing basketball with your other hand, or building a jigsaw puzzle — as long as it adheres to the three rules listed above.
7. Use Mnemonics
Mnemonics are devices you can use to enhance your memory. We have the best chance of remembering things when they’re associated with other things we already know, so using tricks that take advantage of this is always a good idea. Try the method of “loci” by mentally placing items you want to remember along a route you’re familiar with (like picturing grocery items while doing an imaginary walk through your home), creating an acronym with the first letter of every item on your list, or rhyming items together and reciting them in a simple, memorable poem.
8. Rely On Your Senses
An old adage suggests that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, which is why the smell of something innocuous, like tea or a flower, can suddenly remind you of your childhood home. When memorizing something, try to take in as much tangible information about the situation as possible, like textures, colours, tastes, smells, or sounds. You can also stimulate your own senses by writing something down repeatedly, rehearsing it out loud, or even in a different voice, accent, or dialect.
9. Chunk Information Together
The human brain remembers things much better if they’re arranged in groups, typically of three to five and no more than seven. This is part of why it’s easier to remember phone numbers when they’re arranged in three groups (xxx-xxx-xxxx). Your brain can now remember three larger numbers rather than 10 separate ones.
10. Use Environmental Cues
Once you’ve mastered memorizing things, you can aid in their recall by giving yourself cues. Things as simple as alarm clocks or timers will suffice, but you can also plant an object associated with what you’ve memorized in a prominent place, like putting your grocery bags in the front seat of your car to remind you of your memorized shopping list, or studying in the room where you will take your final exam, which is referred to as “state-dependent learning.”
In order to get the most out of these exercises, try concentrating on them one at a time. Once your first exercise has become second nature, move on to the next one. You’ll be combining methods and synergistically enhancing your brain in no time.