For centuries people have been looking for ways to keep their minds healthy and strong. Now, boosting your brain power has never been easier. These brain hacks will help you stay on your game, become more fit, and function better, no matter your age.
Whether you do one hack, or all of them, these hacks will help you create a happier, healthier brain!
Fast-Track Your Metabolism
Everything your body does, from warding off infection to digesting your dinner to sending blood to your brain, occurs through a process called metabolism. During metabolism, cells break down chemicals and nutrients to generate energy and form new molecules, like proteins.
Metabolism in brain cells affects how information is signaled, according to a recent study by McGill University and University of Zurich researchers. Researchers concluded that this is why a special diet can help some individuals with seizure disorder control their seizures. In other words, there is a link between how brain cells create energy and how they communicate. Brain glucose metabolism also affects brain function, particularly memory. Research shows that maintaining stable glucose concentrations in your brain is healthier for your brain, and that levels that are too high or low have a negative effect on brain function.
To fast-track your metabolism:
· Start off your day with breakfast. This wakes up your metabolism.
· Graze with small meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain a more stable metabolism. Avoid the peaks and valleys associated with eating large meals less frequently.
· Eat enough—but not too much. Undereating and overeating both damage your metabolism.
· Skip artificial sweeteners. These may interfere with your body’s metabolism.
· Sip a cuppa. A cup of coffee helps boost metabolism.
Regular physical exercise keeps you mentally strong. Researchers recommend clocking at least twenty minutes a day, but thirty minutes to one hour daily is better. Aerobic exercise such as running or swimming helps get the blood coursing through your system, carrying oxygen and glucose to your brain—two substances your brain can’t do without. Regular exercise also can prod the brain to make more molecules that help protect and produce neurons.
Though studies are still underway to establish the link between exercise and increased brain neurons, many researchers— including those involved with Alzheimer’s disease research—are studying the protective effects of regular physical exercise on the brain’s neural paths for transmitting signals. According to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, physical activity guidelines suggest that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week can lower the risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
Beyond the physical benefits, exercise offers emotional benefits. It increases self-esteem and confidence, which makes you stand up straighter and look the rest of the world squarely in the eye.
Your brain needs iron. Iron helps with cognitive functions—for example, children who have an iron deficiency tend to do worse on math and language tests. Recent studies show that even minor levels of iron deficiency can have negative effects on brain function. Iron is necessary for the production of myelin, the insulating sheath around neurons (nerve cells), which helps speed the rate at which cells convey impulses. Without appropriate myelination, the nervous system, including your brain, cannot function correctly. If you have an iron deficiency, you may need to rely on supplementation rather than diet to raise your iron content to normal levels. But don’t overdo it. Taking iron supplements can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark-colored stools, and/or abdominal distress. To minimize these side effects, follow your doctor’s recommendations and take with food.
Walk and Talk
One of the best ways to strengthen your brain is to exercise it physically and mentally—at the same time. Exercising your brain by thinking—working out problems—is beneficial. And exercising your brain by taking it for a walk is also good. The hippocampus, the part of the brain concerned with memory, grows as your body gets fitter. But now German scientists have shown that if you do both at the same time, you reap even greater benefits. For example, if you bicycle or walk while learning a new language, the vocabulary tends to stick in your memory longer. Note that this is not the same as multitasking, where you’re trying to do two mental activities at once, like reading a book while listening to a lecture. It’s the combination of physical and mental activity that is key.
Take a Dip
Swimming is both fun and good for your brain. It’s aerobic, which means it increases blood flow to your brain, improving cognitive function. But unlike other aerobic exercise that is done on land, swimming is done in the water (okay, maybe that was obvious). The increase resistance of water boosts the benefits. One study showed that swimming increased blood flow to cerebral arteries by about 10 to 15 percent as compared to aerobic exercise done on land. One study also showed that swimming may have anti-depressive effects. Aerobic exercise in general can help generate new brain cells and repair damaged ones, and swimming fires up the whole brain: you use both hemispheres and all four lobes to swim. Keeping the entire brain active is one way to help improve cognition. Dive on in for brain benefits!
Yoga for Life
Yoga, an ancient Indian method of exercise, involves specific postures and breathing exercises. It increases strength, flexibility, circulation, posture, and overall body condition. And it also builds your brain. Its original purpose was to help practitioners gain control over the body and bring it into a state of balance in order to free the mind for spiritual contemplation—in other words, it was used as an aid to meditation. But yoga itself, separate from any meditation practice, can provide benefits to your brain.
A study performed at the University of Illinois found that just a single twenty-minute session of yoga can improve focus and the ability to retain new information. Other research shows that yoga can boost mood, reduce anxiety and inflammation, and lower stress levels. Separate MRI research shows that yoga practitioners who exercise regularly actually enlarge their brains as compared to people who don’t practice yoga. One study showed enlargement in the areas of the brain associated with visualization, reducing stress, and directing attention.
If you’re just starting out with yoga, it can be helpful to take a beginner class with a certified instructor who can show you the proper way to hold your poses and teach you the right breathing techniques.
Dance, Dance, Dance
While studying the effects of different types of exercise on the brain, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other institutions found that the participants who danced for one-hour sessions three times a week showed an improvement in some of the white matter of their brains (namely, the fornix, the part that controls processing speed and memory), while the participants who did a walking or stretching regimen showed the white matter degeneration that is characteristic of aging. Dance has proven so effective at helping the brain that it is now being used to treat people with Parkinson’s. In the past decade, researchers have become more interested in why dance is so beneficial to the brain. They theorize that music stimulates the reward centers of the brain, making you feel good and reducing stress, while the physical movements activate sensory and motor parts of the brain (among other parts). Overall, then, dance involves much of the brain, helping improve brain health as it strengthens memory and the connections between nerve cells. One study showed that of a number of physical activities such as golf and swimming only dance actually decreased the risk of dementia. So dust off your dancing shoes and hit the floor.
Hire a Personal Trainer
Or at least consult a personal trainer. If you have trouble staying motivated, a personal trainer can be extremely beneficial. Having someone hold you accountable for your actions makes you more likely to do what you’ve said you were going to do. In addition to making sure you exercise regularly, a personal trainer can show you how to perform your workout for maximum advantage. Most gyms are staffed with people who will create the exercise regimen that’s best for you and help you through it. The goal is to ensure that you are exercising correctly and at the proper pace. If you can afford a personal trainer, he or she will encourage you to commit to your routine and to push yourself just a wee bit harder—all of which is good for your brain. If you’re not able to afford a trainer, then find a workout partner who can help serve the same purpose.
Emphasizing the importance of the mind/body connection in attaining physical fitness, Joseph Pilates married critical elements of Eastern and Western philosophies to create what is known as the Pilates exercise program. Westerners approach health and fitness as a scientific task with a goal of maintaining and nurturing the body’s muscles, bones, and circulatory and digestive systems. Eastern philosophies place much more importance on the development of mental and spiritual powers in the pursuit of pure health. Pilates students approach each movement with focus and determination, and they equally engage both body and mind in each physical endeavor. Pilates is a conditioning program designed to work the whole body—including your brain—simultaneously and uniformly. Joseph Pilates created his exercises with the intention “that each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles. Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles.” As a result, every muscle is developed in every movement.
Studies have shown that after a mindful exercise such as Pilates or yoga, practitioners have better brain function. Because Pilates is similar to yoga, many of the benefits of yoga can be realized by performing Pilates exercises (for example, the stress-relieving aspect).
Excerpted from Brain Hacks: 200+ Ways to Boost Your Brain Power Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.