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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 July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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