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6 Ways to Power Up Your Brain

6 Ways to Power Up Your Brain

Everybody knows that it is important to have a healthy body so you live a long, productive life, but what about your brain health? How can you increase your brain power with your everyday activities? How can you fuel up your brain?

Well, you could load up on caffeine and energy drinks for a temporary boost, but I think it is safe to say that we all know that caffeine and energy drinks are detrimental to our health. So let’s look at some sure-fire ways to boost your brain health that are actually good for you and that have scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.

1. Brain training

Psychologists have known for quite some time that fundamental cognitive skills (for example, the speed at which we process information) are fairly stable throughout our life, and while we can often do more with what nature has given us, it is not so easy to improve our basic cognitive skill levels — at least until recently.

The latest player on the self-improvement scene is brain training, with all its neuroscientific gravitas and promises of genuine improvements to our fundamental cognitive skills, such as working memory and decision-making speed. Brain training is often done online via a person’s laptop, tablet, phone or personal computer. Brain training is often gamified so that it appears to be a leisure activity rather than an educational pursuit or a clinical intervention. And these games can often stimulate targeted areas of the brain that are crucial to intellectual activity.

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Practice at these tasks can lead to the now well-documented process of neurogenesis. The idea is that we can literally boost our brains with the correct types of mental exercises. Because psychologists now know quite a bit about which brain areas are involved in what types of skills, they can devise exercises to target those precise areas so that, at least in theory, we can all become more agile thinkers, have more creative insights and reason more logically.

No doubt the field has become cluttered with all manner of charlatans riding the exciting new wave of interest in what is called “cognitive training” by psychologists. The media have made the lack of evidence for the merits of brain training a recurring theme in their pop science supplements. And it is true that many brain training companies make unsupported promises that have the science community shaking their heads in disbelief. However, this does not diminish the fact that scientists are increasingly aware that the brain is never fully formed and that humans are constantly in a process of growth and change. Stimulating this growth and change with cognitive activities will most certainly make for more fully developed brains on a physiological level.

Psychologists are also as sure as we can reasonably be that brain cell connections really do grow in response to stimulation, and that stimulated brain areas are measurably better developed as a result. We are less sure that we can actually become more intelligent, insightful, and creative in our thinking as a result of brain training, although all the evidence and theory points in the right direction. Some very high-profile research published by Professor Susan Jaegii and colleagues has led to a high degree of confidence among psychologists that a task known as the dual N-back task can indeed raise at least one important dimension of intelligence — known as fluid intelligence — significantly and in the long term (that is, at least several months).

Another report by Cassidy, Roche and Hayes (2011) in “The Psychological Record” found IQ gains of 13 points or so for children with learning difficulties exposed to a behavior-analytic form of intellectual skills training called relational skills training. It can certainly be argued that specific brain training games have not withstood scientific scrutiny and failed to show their efficacy as a clinical tool versus merely a game. However, this doesn’t take away from the basic fact that psychologists are on the cusp of something revolutionary with brain training techniques. These techniques really will give more power to you brain.

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2. Maintain high levels of mental activity

The more conversations you have had as a child or have with your child, the more intelligent you or your child become. So if you want to power up your child’s or your own brain, then have more conversations. Start this form of brain training as early as humanly possible. Simple brain games involving naming objects and solving puzzles make learning a social as well as an educational matter and this improves everyone’s IQ.

Communication increases our vocabulary, which is important for our general intelligence levels. Kids whose parents read to them most days have higher IQs. However, the key to an increased IQ is not just to read, but to read interactively to a child. That means that you should use an interesting and varying tone of voice, showing lots of relevant emotion as you read. Look for signs of interest or reactions in the child and ask those questions as you go, making sure the child understands what is being read. For example, you could stop and ask: “What do you think happens next?” You can also check to see if they can tell you the meaning of a word, or you can provide one for them. This makes reading a fun social activity and this is where the real IQ boost comes from. This is probably the simplest and most important thing you can do for your child and it is why TV and audio stories played from CDs or computers just will not do the trick. It turns out that kids need their parents! Engaging with stories is very good for a child’s intellectual development, as shown in the article “What Reading Does for the Mind” by Cunningham & Stanovich (1998).

But don’t worry if you were never read to as a child.  Exercising the brain and keeping mentally active is always a good idea, no matter what age you are now. Fun activities like crosswords, Sudoku, or whatever similar activity takes your fancy have long been suspected by neuroscientists to help improve your cognitive ability. Even struggling to understand a map or a badly written flat-pack furniture assembly guide will exercise your spatial and reasoning abilities. One of the simplest things you can do to make your brain sweat is to try to understand points of view that you do not agree with. Open your mind and listen to arguments that make no sense to you and try to find some sense in them.

3. Get plenty of physical exercise

Physical exercise is a great solution to a wide range of physical, emotional and even intellectual problems. Exercise is free and there are no side effects. Physical exercise increases your blood flow, which in turn increases the amount of oxygen and glucose your brain is receiving. As exercise also involves physical coordination, the brain gets a workout as it coordinates the physical activity. Exercise helps with the growth of new brain cells (neurons) and the connections between brain cells (neurogenesis) by promoting the production of three essential “growth factors,” called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1), and endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

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These factors also minimize inflammation, grow new blood vessels, and slow down cell self-destruction. A good workout can also awaken dormant stem cells in the hippocampus, a part of the mid-brain that controls our memory system. Some research seems to suggest that there may be genuine intellectual benefits to exercise in terms of IQ gains.

4. Have a healthy and balanced diet

There are quite a range of food ingredients that are good for your brain and no end of marketing experts who will try to sell you the extracted ingredient in pill form or added to yoghurt. But the truth is that many food components can increase our mental functioning. Ginkgo biloba (extracted from the ginkgo tree) has good effects on memory. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, some berries, and the omega-3 oils found in oily fish (and some grains) appear to improve memory and overall brain function, as do green teas and protein in general. Protein, which we take in through meat, eggs and beans and peas (pulses), contain high levels of amino acids, such as tyrosine, which in turn cause neurons to produce the very important neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which are associated with mental alertness.

The evidence is getting clearer on the effects of healthy diet and breastfeeding for an increased IQ. Mothers who breastfeed their babies for more than just a few weeks provide them with essential omega-3 fatty acids that are generally not available in baby formula. The same essential oils are also found in fresh fish, so kids fed plenty of fresh food and grains, including fresh fish from as early as possible, have higher IQs than kids fed on formula and processed food.

Perhaps the best evidence for exercise as a technique to fuel your brain power comes from a gold standard Randomized Controlled Trial study published in the journal Pediatrics by Helland, Smith, Saarem, Saugstad, & Drevon in 2003. That study compared the IQs of children fed on omega-3-enhanced milk formula compared to those who were not. The researchers found that the IQs of the omega-3 fed children were several points higher at four years of age — long after milk feeding had stopped.

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A child’s IQ is also helped by the diet of the mother, especially in the last trimester of her pregnancy. If the mother eats a healthy diet high in omega-3 oils and feeds her child well, that child will gain several IQ points for life. A mother and infant diet based on processed meals and processed foods like fizzy drinks, cheap breads and cakes, may actually reduce your child’s IQ below its expected level.

5. Get good quality sleep

The brain does not shut off when we are asleep. The brain is at work while you sleep and much of the work is processing the learning that took place that day (see Walker, Stickgold, Alsop, Gaab, & Schlaug, 2005). Psychologists have long understood that our dreams, for example, are really just a reflection of all the work our brains are doing trying to make sense of all the information we have been taking in but have not yet fully interpreted and made sense of. So if this is true, you really can solve problems and make of sense of things by “sleeping on it.” On the other hand, if you do not sleep properly, you can lose the benefit of your learning experiences. You also will not learn as well the following day. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to benefit fully and perform at their cognitive peak each day.

6. Have good personal relationships

One particular form of memory that we practice in relationships of all kinds is known as “transactive” memory, a concept first developed by psychologist Daniel Wegner in 1985. This is a form of memory in which we become expert in one particular type of information and often have sole responsibility for it.

For example, at a party your spouse may be excellent at remembering someone’s job and taste in music once he is introduced, but they may be close to useless at remembering faces and names even if they have met someone before. This is why couples often work as a team, with each being relied upon to be expert in their area of talent. While each partner may struggle without the other, together they appear to have no problems at all remembering anything in social situations. Each partner benefits from the relationship in never feeling forgetful and always knowing what to say.

It also turns out that the more diverse your friends are in type, the more they challenge you to think creatively. They provide you with information you would not normally have and they give you different perspectives on everything. Your friends figuratively keep your mind open.

Having a strong, healthy and fit brain is increasingly important as we are now living longer than ever before. We can do most of these things every single day and they are scientifically proven to benefit us in the long term, not just in the here and now. The best news is that you don’t need to wait for the New Year to start having a fit and healthy brain. And you don’t need a gym membership or a self-help guru to guide your way to good brain health. All you need is a brain and the motivation to start powering it up!

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Last Updated on January 17, 2019

8 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Bring Peace and Happiness to Your Life

8 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Bring Peace and Happiness to Your Life

In life, we all need to be conscientious of what we are doing. You don’t need to live a life of stress if you don’t want to. You can achieve peace and happiness in life by carefully building mindfulness exercises into your life’s routine.

Exercising mindfulness isn’t rocket science and as importantly, you can do it. It will, however, take a few tries to get into the groove of things but once you get it, it is like riding a bike, you will never lose it.

Trust me. It’s in your best interest to learn and put these mindfulness exercises into practice. In this article, I will share with you 8 mindfulness exercises that will help you to boost your energy, vitality and live a more peaceful and happier life.

Why Is It Hard to Live A Peaceful And Happy Life?

Our Habitat Has Become Too Technological

The world has accepted the idea that technology is often the cure for all evil. We have accepted, as a society, that everything technological will make us live a better life without fully investigating the many side effects that modernity brings.

There are a number of technological side effects that have a tremendous impact on your life that the media rarely tells you about.[1] Some of them include self-harm, economic inequality, having less sex, and even suicide. The global community is becoming less happy because of technology.

How can anybody live a peaceful and happy life when they are depressed? Technology advancements, ladies and gents, is a major reason for why we are living a poor life because it has infiltrated our lives too much.

According to my research, Americans spend an average of 8 hours a day looking at the computer screen — The average screen time spent on smartphones alone is about 20 hours per week. That’s a lot! No wonder why living a happy and peaceful life is so difficult these days.

Too Many People Don’t Want to Unplug

Americans check their phones an average of 80 times during vacation.[2] Some admit to checking their smartphones 300 times every single day. In countries like Brazil, India and China, the situation is no different.

The reality is that people are constantly plugged into technological devices and this behavior is literally making people all over the globe fight an inner war with themselves, which consequently makes them very sad. As we know, war is the enemy of peace which won’t make anybody happy.

Listen carefully:

We have a global anxiety epidemic because people don’t want to unplug from their smartphones and most people aren’t doing anything to fix it. It is a sad state of affairs but very real. This obsession with technology is turning us into perishable robots who live terrible lives.

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The era of anxiety is here to stay. There is little doubt about it. We can, however, fight back with the best remedy of all — We call it mindfulness!

Thank God there is an antidote to this whole technological madness. Without further ado, let’s go straight to the mindful exercises.

8 Mindfulness Exercises to Start Practicing

There are tons of mindfulness exercises available for you to engage with out there.[3] In the paragraphs below, I will include the best ones I’ve personally tried or have seen my close friends and family members try.

Are you ready for it? Let’s go!

1. Pray Daily

You should pray on a daily basis. Why is that you may ask — Well, because science has told us to do so.

When people pray, they feel peaceful, almost eliminating anxiety. Worries become secondary, and often gives people energy and hope to cope with the difficulties of life.

Prayer can make you more confident and focused. Prayer also helps you with self-control, helps to control pain, and can protect you against illnesses and disorders like cancer and high blood pressure. At least, this is what researchers from Harvard Medical School have said.[4]

Pray. You won’t regret it.[5]

2. Pay Attention to Your Inner Thoughts

A lot of people allow themselves to be influenced by their negative thoughts. Be different and resist believing in them. It is a bad habit that can lead to unhappiness.

By the way, if you do feel this way, chances are high that somebody other than you put these thoughts into your head.

Here is my secret to combat this cancer — look at things objectively. I bet that if you look at things as they are, you will realize that most if not all of your negative thoughts are only inside of your head.

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If you pay close attention, you will quickly realize that these voices aren’t worth your time. Believe me — Ignoring them and looking at things with objectivity is often the best course of action.

This article can guide you to beat negative thoughts:

How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed

3. Smile Often

Smiling will slow down your heart. It will also relax your body because when you smile, your body releases endorphins which in itself has a number of positive benefits for you as a person.

Smile often! You may want to smile early in the morning, during the day, and late in the evening. It is amazing what happens to you when you decide to smile instead of being grumpy.

Surrender your problems to a nice smile. You will notice two things. First, most people just don’t which makes them live a miserable life. Second, if you decide to smile often, you will eventually smile unconsciously which is the ideal.

The moment that you smile unconsciously, you then know that you are truly happy.

4. Organize Your Working Desk

A messy desk will make you less productive and can agitate and overstimulate you. You don’t want that.

When you clear your desk, you engage in deep inner-thinking and your systematic decision making ends up becoming therapeutic.

Most people realize that they are most creative when their creative space is clean and organized. The former often makes people more aware of what they are doing which lends to less stress and more productivity.

Organizing your desk will also make you more energetic and focused because order often decreases chaos which is a condition that often slows down daily progress.

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5. Celebrate Your Friend’s Victories

I love this mindful exercise. One of the best ways to live a happy and peaceful life is to celebrate the victories of others. When you do that, you automatically make your friends in a better mood which makes you in a better mood, as well.

Happiness is contagious! We might as well celebrate others as much as we can. If you find out that your peer has won an award, celebrate with him! If your friend is the recipient of a local charity award, celebrate with her!

What is also awesome is that when you celebrate with others, they often celebrate with you in return. This, ladies and gentleman, will make you feel fantastic. You can’t go wrong with this one, period.

6. Listen to Your Spouse/Partner

God put someone in your life for a reason. You might as well listen to him or her.

I listen to my wife everyday. In fact, I often ask the following question to her, “Amanda, what are your thoughts about…” or “What am I missing about…” It is shocking what I hear back from her. Without her having much context and perspective, by the art of observation in my own nonverbal behavior and the behavior of others, she accurately gives me incredible insights which helps me out with living my life to the fullest.

I’m a firm believer that spouses are supposed to engage in interpersonal communication every day. I most definitely do and will continue doing it. You should do the same.

7. Give Yourself a Break from Technology

You can’t be in total equilibrium if your computerized devices control your life. You must get away from technology on a daily basis.[6]

How do you do that? This is my formula:

First, take this smartphone control test. It is only ten questions but this test will place you somewhere in the human robot cycle continuum.

If your score is between 25-30, take a break from the computer (or smartphone, pad, laptop/desktop) every twenty minutes and stop being on a computerized device after 8:00pm.

If you score between 30-35, still take a break every 20 minutes but stop being on these devices at 5:00pm.

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If you score more than 35, you need to take action immediately.

Limit computer use as much as possible throughout the day. Give yourself as many breaks from the computer as possible. Are you ready for the challenge?

8. Go Exercise

Go exercise at least three times a week. I don’t care if you need to workout early in the morning, late in the evening, on the weekends or during work days. Working out is absolutely imperative for you to live happy and peaceful life.

The stresses of the modern world are too much for you to neglect this important mindfulness exercise. When you go to the gym, you burn calories, focus on activities one step at a time, your mind relaxes, anxiety decreases, you sweat and often think about topics unrelated to your work place among many other benefits.

You must exercise at least three hours each week for optimum results. Why? Just take a look at all the benefits of regular exercising:

12 Benefits of Regular Exercise You Should Know

The Bottom Line

It’s in your best interest to learn and put these mindfulness exercises into practice. Now that our habitat has become too technological and many people just don’t want to unplug, engaging in daily prayer, celebrate your friends’ victories, and listening to your spouse are among the best ways to be mindful about what you are doing and how you are living.

It is possible to live a happy and peaceful life. It only depends on you.

Go exercise! Take a break from technology and invest in you! Life is too short for distractions.

More Resources About Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Lesly Juarez via unsplash.com

Reference

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