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Want To Improve Your Memory? Have A Busy Schedule!

Want To Improve Your Memory? Have A Busy Schedule!

Our lives are overfilled with things to do. And the more driven, ambitious, and connected we are, the busier we stay.

We are bombarded with messages to “unplug,” get away, take a break, slow down, and engage in “me” time. While these things are absolutely necessary and essential to our mental wellbeing, busyness does have its benefits.

Researchers have found that staying busy improves mental processing and reasoning skills, helps improve memory — both long and short term — and improves overall mental functioning.

Busy people have sharper minds and better memories, plain and simple.

In a study conducted by researchers in Texas and Alabama, 330 healthy men and women ranging from age 50 to 80 were quizzed about their daily schedules and put through a battery of mental tests.

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The results showed that no matter how old they were or how well educated, a busy lifestyle was linked to a healthy brain.

In this particular study, researchers began with the hypothesis “that a busy schedule would be a proxy for an engaged lifestyle and would facilitate cognition.” They were able to determine that greater busyness was associated with better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized knowledge.

busy schedule

    How does staying busy improve memory?

    The brain, like any other muscle, needs exercise. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is mental exercise. Scientists believe that the amount and types of stimulation directly affects cognitive processes — especially in the area of memory improvement.

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    Some of the mental processes involved in having a hectic schedule are:

    • Multi-tasking
    • Problem solving
    • Reasoning
    • Analyzing
    • Interruption and re-engagement of thought
    • Planning
    • Strategizing
    • Linear thinking
    • Global thinking
    • Computation

    Researcher Dr. Sarah Festini of the University of Texas at Dallas said, “We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information.”

    Busyness improves episodic memory — the ability to recall specific events and working memory — which is the part of short-term memory concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing.

    The study reported a surprising correlation: the busier the individual, the higher he or she seemed to score on the cognitive tests. It’s possible, the researchers hypothesized, that the daily workout of completing task after task is building our brains up and improving mental skills.

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    The performance gap between the busy and the free was even more pronounced among older participants.

    Before you run out and overfill your schedule with random activities, consider this:

    The results of this study are one-sided, and therefore not entirely conclusive.

    Keep in mind the study only examined how mental engagement works to improve memory and mental cognition. It did not study the negative effects of a harried and mentally taxing lifestyle. Having a crammed mind does not automatically equal a sharper one.

    “In our fast-paced, wired world, many of us live our lives in chronic stress,” says Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. That means our brains are being perpetually bathed in stress hormones like cortisol.

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    The result?

    Studies done in mice show that chronically elevated stress hormone levels shrink the hippocampus, so while your memory may be improving, you’re less likely to form new memories.

    Even though the research does prove that staying busy helps keep the brain honed, a hurried life could carry less positive consequences for our hearts and metabolisms.

    Busyness responsibly

      Using busyness responsibly:

      For those who may have some additional mental bandwidth and room in their schedules for another activity, try to engage in tasks that will improve memory and your overall brain function, such as:

      • Take a class — nothing too stressful but be sure it is something that genuinely interests you.
      • DIY projects — these are fun and challenge your brain in different ways.
      • Learn a new skill — any activities where your brain is engaged in the learning process will stimulate and improve all cognitive processes.
      • Try something new and different — such as resturants, recipes, activities, routes home, or grocery stores.
      • Plan an event from start to finish.
      • Work out — physical exercise is scientfically proven to be just as beneficial as mental exercise.
      • Volunteer — spend your time engaging in an activity that you connect with. This will improve your mind, body, and soul.

      Featured photo credit: Mickey970 via pixabay.com

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      Denise Hill

      Speech Writer/Senior Editor

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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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