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7 Hobbies Science Says Will Make Your Brain Works Smarter And Faster

7 Hobbies Science Says Will Make Your Brain Works Smarter And Faster

All parts of our body age. And our brain does too. We’ve all witnessed the natural deterioration of brain functions in older relatives. Unfortunately, they lose their short-term memories and they gradually lose the executive functions, as the right frontal lobe loses gray matter and gets “mushy.” Even without the dreaded Alzheimer’s, our brains just age. Now; however, neuroscience tells us that we can delay this process. In some instances, we can reverse brain deterioration by engaging in some pretty specific activities, most of which we would consider hobbies. Here are 7 of them.

1. Read Anything

Whether you love old classic comic books or the New York Times, brain researchers tell us that reading actually increases brain function in several areas. It stimulates the growth of new neural pathways as we absorb new information. Reading flexes those parts of the brain that deal with problem-solving, seeing patterns, and interpreting what others are saying to us about their feelings. It also improves memory, builds on prior learning (more neural connections), and exercises parts of the brain that allow imagination. Some research also points to speedreading as a method to increase synapses (electrical connections between regions of the brain), since the brains must process sensory information quickly. Indeed, for many students, speedreading is a valuable skill.

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2. Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

For years, neuro-scientists have conducted research on the benefits of music instruction for children relative to improved cognitive functions – memory, problem-solving, sequential processing, and pattern recognition. Playing an instrument (the voice is also an instrument), increases gray matter volume and makes neural connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. For this reason, scientists believe that early musical training allows students to be better at both linear math work (algorithms, equation solving) and mathematical problem-solving (modeling, optimization, problem research). Playing an instrument ensures both sides of the brain work together much better.

Now, researchers tell us that taking up a musical instrument as an adult – young, middle-aged, or older – can produce the same neurological effects as it does in children.

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3. Exercise on a Regular Basis

Here’s what the science tells us. Exercise produces a protein (BDNF) in the blood stream. As blood travels through the brain, cells absorb this protein, which is responsible for both increased memory and focus. One of the most notable experiments was a photo memory test given to experimental and control groups. The experimental group exercised before the test, while the control group did not. The experimental group’s test results were overwhelmingly better. Members were able to focus on the photos and then recall them after a period of waiting.

4. Learn a New Language

Several areas of the brain are used as we take in sound, give it meaning, and then respond to it – 4 areas in all. Bilingual people have more gray matter in their language centers. They can focus on more than one task at a time because parts of the brain that relate to reasoning, planning, and memory are more developed. Again, scientists began to study this in children first, looking at those in whose households a foreign language was spoken, but in whose schools only English was spoken. Being forced to take in sounds from two different languages and “sort out” which language was being heard forced these areas of the brain into greater functioning. Now, it is also known that learning a language at any stage in one’s life has the same forceful effect on the brain making it smarter.

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5. Engage in Cumulative Learning

Cumulative learning is defined as that process by which we take what we already know and layer new information of the same type on top of that. For example, math is cumulative learning. Children first learn basic functions. Then they learn how to use those basic functions to solve word problems. Next, they learn algebra, using basic functions to solve equations. Every layer goes on top of what was learned before. As we age, and especially as we leave the workforce, we tend to cease cumulative learning activities. However, research says if we continue to engage in them we sharpen memory, sequential ordering, problem solving (executive functioning of right frontal lobe), and language. Maybe we should all take a math or writing class in our senior years!

6. Exercise Your Brain with Puzzles and Games

We need to think of our brains as both computers and muscles. The more information we put into our brains, the more functions they can perform. Likewise, the more we exercise our brains, the stronger they function. Brain plasticity is a term that is used to refer to the continually new connections that are made when we take in information, engage in thinking, and force ourselves to remember things. Crossword puzzles, deductive thinking activities, and strategic games such as chess or even some video games, force our brains to take in new information and make new connections.

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7. Meditate / Practice Yoga

Meditation is no longer something that can be thought of as “that thing that Hindu and Buddhist monks do.” What research says about meditation is actually pretty astounding. First, it allows better control of one’s thinking when not in a meditative state. This control allows focus, concentration, and better memory. In fact, students who meditate do better on tests, and adults who meditate have better memories. Meditation increases gray matter in areas of the brain that control learning and memory. Senior citizens who meditate keep more gray matter than those who do not. For students with behavior problems in school, meditation has been shown to improve behavior and school attendance because it reduces stress and anxiety. It would appear that meditation is a great thing for all ages.

All of these hobbies are things that we can easily incorporate into our daily lives. Given what science now tells us, they will keep our brains wonderfully healthy.

Featured photo credit: Luis Marina via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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