Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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).

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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!

More by this author

13 Ways To Deal With An Angry Child Want To Boost Brain Power? Try Out These 10 Foods RaiseYourIQautisticchildren 20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You This Is How You Can Raise Your IQ And Improve Your Memory Top Tips to Increase Parent-Child Attachment

Trending in Health

1 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get You Back on Track 2 Weight Loss Plan And Program: Create Your Own One 3 4 Simple Desk-Based Stretches for Effective Lower Back Pain Relief 4 Why You Should Go For Vitamin D But Not Vitamin C To Prevent The Cold 5 Reasons of Insomnia and How to Combat It (The Complete Guide)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

Advertising

Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

Advertising

I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

Advertising

Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

Advertising

Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

Read Next