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10 Ways to Keep Your Mental Powers in Top Form

10 Ways to Keep Your Mental Powers in Top Form

Would you like to stay mentally active? Let me tell you that it is all about connections. Our brains weigh about three pounds and have about 100 billion neurons which are all connected by about 10 trillion synapses. This is a vast computer network and nobody is quite sure how they all work together.

But all neurologists agree on one thing. The more active the brain cells, the more mentally alert and active we can remain. We can stave off Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions. Use it or lose it. Interestingly enough, there is a higher rate of Alzheimers disease among those people who have never had much mental stimulation because they had a very poor education. In other words, their brains are not utilized to the full extent. Here are 10 simple ways, which are scientifically proven, to keep your brain active.

1. Physical exercise boosts your brain power

Hitting the gym is not just about those muscles or that trim waistline you crave. It is a lot more because the brain is also going to thrive. Look at the benefits for the brain when you exercise for about half an hour every day:

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  • More oxygen for all organs, including your brain
  • Release of hormones which help brain cells multiply
  • Improved memory
  • Brain processes information more efficiently.
  • Increases power of reasoning

2. Eat a healthy diet

Your brain needs the right foods to function properly. You can have a better memory, sharper focus and a longer attention span if you eat smart foods. Here are some examples to keep the brain in top condition:

  • Fish is the number one because it has lots of omega 3 fatty acids which really help the brain.
  • Ginseng
  • Caffeine
  • Dark chocolate
  • Berries
  • Whole grains
  • Fruit

3. You never stop learning

Let your brain slow down to a snail’s pace by not learning anything new. This is a recipe for disaster. Basically, you have to go on learning so you can start a new hobby, learn another language, get computer savvy, or start writing that novel. Those easy crosswords may not be enough as your brain needs a challenge. One expert has remarked that if you remain in your comfort zone, you may well be outside your enhancement zone.

4. Plan your brain fitness program

Anything which can get those brain cells making connections is what counts. You may want to vary the games and also the difficulty. If they are always too easy or you only choose Sudoku, then this may not be enough. Chess, scrabble, word games and more challenging quizzes need to be added into the mix. Researchers have found that brain fitness programs can add up to 10 years of optimal mental health.

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5. Try the spaced interval repetition technique

This program was developed by the University of Illinois and is basically software which tells you how you store information and remember it. It tailors your learning style so that you can learn and remember information much more efficiently. Great for students and retirees who are learning new skills.

6. Socialize more

Loneliness is a killer. There are now alarming statistics that show that loneliness drastically shortens life. If you can keep your social connections flourishing, it will help you live much longer. I am talking here about real social interaction and not just a virtual one like Facebook. One American study followed 2,000 older citizens. Those who were desperately lonely were twice as likely to die during the research period. Other studies show unequivocally that the more active you are socially, the more your brain functions better.

7. Think positive

I know. Every article you read says this. What should you think about when you are trying to survive in freezing water? The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration advises you to keep a positive attitude as this will significantly increase your chances of survival.  But can positive thinking really increase your mental alertness in more normal situations? Research shows that negativity interferes with alertness and mental clarity. Positive thinking puts you in the fast lane and your brain loves being happy!

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8. Avoid multitasking

People who multitask are wasting so much of their mental energy. It is like leaving all the lights on at home when you are using only one room. But try telling that to the people who drive and talk on their mobiles!

Studies done on over 1,000 office workers found that multitasking was worse than smoking marijuana or not getting enough sleep. Their IQ scores after the multitasking went down by 10 points. It makes sense because when you do this, you cannot prioritize and you cannot concentrate fully on one task. One reason is that this ‘infomania’ is taking over but it is also affecting mental clarity and alertness.

9. Get dressed in the dark

Have you tried getting dressed in a dark room?  If you have, you will know that you have to use different senses and you have to use quite a few of them, like touch, smell and hearing. Using all your senses (except sight) to get the task done is a great mental exercise.

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10. Get in the zone

Have you ever got so engrossed in a task that time no longer existed? It is a wonderful accomplishment and many experts have defined it as getting in the ‘zone’ or getting into the ‘flow’.

But the perfect alignment of mood, concentration and task achievement is very rare indeed. It really does illustrate that mental alertness can be maximized, if the conditions are right .

Daniel Goleman has written about this in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.  If you can perfect this technique, your mental ability will reach stellar levels.

How do you keep your mind alert and active? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: 1 in 5 – Really?/Mark Turnauckas via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Freelance writer

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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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