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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 October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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