With hundreds of apps now available to manage your grocery list, optimize your sleep, and to remind you to get up and stretch, it’s easy to see why the one organ responsible for making all of it possible in the first place, the brain, can be so quickly forgotten.
While it’s easy to assume brain health is something only to worry about when you get older, the fact is we are all at risk of brain degeneration. The brain is a “use it or lose it” organ, and the best way to keep it fit is to include it in your overall health and well-being strategy.
The human brain has an extraordinary ability to adapt, even into old age. Known as neuroplasticity, with the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways. Here are seven simple tips and tricks to improve your brain power at any age:
1. Lift Some Brain “Weights”
By the time you hit adulthood, millions of neural pathways have been created by your brain—meaning you can quickly process and recall information, solve familiar problems, and execute habitual tasks with little mental effort. Only problem? It’s the equivalent of lifting a bar at the gym with no weights on it! No matter how intellectually demanding the activity, if it’s something you’re already good at, it’s not a good brain exercise. Shake things up with something new and get your brain off default: learn how to speak French, play a new instrument, master chess, or learn a martial arts.
2. Take a Brain Break
Our lives are more full than ever before and our brains can feel “wired” from the moment we wake to the moment we collapse into bed exhausted. Meditation isn’t just great for relaxing your body— it’s also helpful for giving your brain a break. Research suggests meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to improve short-term memory in people of all ages, may increase gray matter in the brain, and improve spatial working memory. And not just that, meditation give us the much-needed breathing space our overworked brains need.
3. Bring Back the Wonder Years
“What’s the name of that actor again?”—cue desperate grab for our phones to Google the answer! When was the last time you let your brain wonder? When was the last time you allowed it to search the depths of your memory without a virtual assistant’s help? Resist the urge to work things out using an external device every now and then and use the device you were born with – your brain! Start to notice how many times you reach for your device for directions, to answer random questions, to add up simple sums, or to solve a problem? And the next time you catch yourself, give your brain the call-up! Flexing the brain muscle often on small tasks like this helps build mental capacity faster.
4. Take a (Real) Day Off
Do you ever wish you could shut down as quickly as your laptop does? Do you check emails and texts at weekends or on days off? Not only does this set you up for feeling stressed out, but it also leads your brain down the path of burnout. Taking just one day off per week can give your brain the space to process new information, help you better solve problems by making new connections, and even understand ourselves and other people better. Leave your device at home if you need to or pop it into the cupboard out of sight, and allow your gray matter to unwind.
5. Power Down
Yes, an all-night movie marathon can be fun, but your brain won’t be thanking you in the morning when you’re struggling to remember where you left your keys! Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised even if you skimp on a few hours of sleep a night. Plus, key memory-enhancing activities occur during the deepest stages of sleep. Keep a regular bedtime and wake up time, close all technology an hour before lights out, and maximize your slumber sessions.
6. Choose Brain Foods
You can find helpful brain-boosting ingredients in foods like fruits, vegetables, and teas or up the ante with curcumin, a compound found in high concentrations in the turmeric root. Though more human studies are needed on the effects of curcumin on memory, animal studies suggest it may be effective at boosting memory and preventing cognitive decline.
7. Put Pen to Paper
The age of technology has (almost) made pen and paper redundant, but not as far as your brain is concerned! The physical act of writing is not only relaxing, it helps both sides of your brain coordinate, inspires thought and creativity, improves perception, and allows far greater capacity for reflection (compared to typing). Lessen the load of worries or tasks that would otherwise take up mental space and allow them to take up space on the page instead.
Although the brain is highly complex, taking care of it doesn’t have to be. Brain-training programs certainly have their place, but picking one or two of these simple tips that you can weave into your daily life means little to no interruption to your schedule and responsibilities.
Because while there's not much you can do to stop time and aging, you can vastly improve the quality of your life with the time you have — and that includes keeping your mind sharp and vibrant! If looked after well, it can be repaired, re-trained, and molded into the best shape of its life!