So it’s April and as good a time as any to clean out your closets and garage, and maybe start working on that landscaping, right? Spring cleaning time is here, and it’s also as good a time as any to clean out some, if not all, of those cobwebs inside your head. Whether your brain has been cluttered with tax prep or you are a student prepping to cram for final exams, or a senior lifer aspiring to improve memory functions, many of you can always use some cognitive cleanliness and fine tuning.
The Power of the Human Brain
Teaching an old dog new tricks doesn’t always meet with success, but the human brain might be a different story. It has an amazing ability to adapt and change, even for the golden agers, as helpguide.org points out. That’s because of the most important organ’s neuroplasticity. What that means is that, with the correct stimulation, your brain can create “new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways.”
Having a sharp mind and the ability to focus and recall facts and memories on a dime does take work, and that workload can increase as you grow older. It’s all about working out your mental muscles as well as your physical ones, as an idle mind or body can wreak havoc on your health. You don’t need to let age slow you down when it comes to exercising your thinking cap. Following are nine tips on how to sharpen your mind, in the process maintaining a healthy quality of life.
9 Brain Boosters Aimed at an Uncluttered Mind
- Eat well. Eating healthy can translate to a healthy brain. A recent UCLA study, per abcnews.go.com, found that rats fed a high-sugar diet were slower in completing a maze, but when omega-3 fats were added to their diet, their mental prowess was protected from the effects of the sugar.
- Exercise your brain. Of course. This involves more than just doing the same puzzle day after day, whether it be the newspaper’s daily crossword or Sudoku. You need to keep shaking things up a bit so your brain can keep developing. Find some new brain-bolstering activities, per helpguide.org, that are new to you as well as challenging. Don’t rule out learning a new musical instrument or learning a new language.
- Exercise your body. Research has shown that consistent physical exertion, such as swimming, lifting weights, yoga, or tai chi can boost your levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Per mindbodygreen.com, this is a protein that enhances memory, learning, and higher thinking by stimulating growth of new neurons and longevity of existing ones.
- Antioxidants. This also plays into the eating-well factor. Antioxidants abundant in edibles/potables, such as blueberries, spinach, red grapes, green tea, and dark chocolate, have been shown able to upgrade memory, learning, and overall cognitive function, per mindbodygreen.com.
- Read. Remember those things called newspapers, magazine, and books? When you read – and doing it with a print product at bedtime vs. reading on a computer screen will help you sleep better – you further develop your ability to focus and concentrate, which is key to healthy aging.
- Sleep. Speaking of which, adults should aim for 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night. It’s a good investment of your time. Sleep deprivation can erode your cognitive skills, memory, and ability to think and communicate clearly.
- Meditation. The idea here is to reduce stress in your life, as studies have shown that chronic stress can impair your brain. What you want to do is develop a meditation practice that is breath-focused, such as mindfulness meditation or tai chi, even for just 10 to 20 minutes a day, per mindbodygreen.com.
- Identify health problems. Underlying health issues can affect brain performance, and we’re not just talking forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hormone imbalance, and even some medications can affect your cognitive ability for the worse. It’s worth a discussion with your doctor, and don’t be shy about bringing up the previous seven tips as well to get his or her opinion.
- Repeat or write what you hear. It's simple: as soon as you hear or read something you want to remember, like a person's name upon meeting them, repeat it out loud or write it down. That helps you reinforce the memory or connection, per health.harvard.edu. Even if you don't look again at that piece of paper you wrote on for a long time, you are more likely to remember what you wrote just by writing it down in the first place.