While you may run, lift weights, or do yoga to keep your body in good condition, chances are you ignore your brain and trust it to do its job…
No matter what your age, mental exercise has a global, positive effect on the brain. So, here are 5 ways to boost your brain
1. Run up your brain cells.
Research suggests that people who get plenty of physical exercise can wind up with better brains. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., found that adult mice who ran on an exercise wheel whenever they felt like it gained twice as many new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory, than mice who sat around all day discussing Lord of the Rings in Internet chat rooms. The researchers weren’t sure why the more active rodents’ brains reacted the way they did, but it’s possible that the voluntary nature of the exercise made it less stressful and therefore more beneficial. Which could mean that finding ways to enjoy exercise, rather than just forcing yourself to do it, may make you smarter – and happier, too.
So, play a sport, train for an event such as a marathon, triathlon or “fun run,” or work out with a buddy to help keep things interesting.
2. Exercise your mind.
It isn’t just physical exercise that gets those brain cells jumping. Just like those head-pumped cabbies and piano jockeys, you can build up various areas of your brain by putting them to work. Duke University neurobiology professor Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., co-author of Keep Your Brain Alive, says that finding simple ways to use aspects of your brain that may be lagging could help maintain both nerve cells and dendrites, branches on the cells that receive and process information. Just as a new weightlifting exercise builds up underused muscles, Katz says that novel ways of thinking and viewing the world can improve the functioning of inactive sections of the brain.
Experience new tastes and smells; try to do things with your nondominant hand; find new ways to drive to work; travel to new places; create art; read that Dostoyevsky novel; write a buddy comedy for Ted Kennedy and Rush Limbaugh – basically, do anything you can to force yourself out of your mental ruts.
3. Ask why.
Our brains are wired to be curious. As we grow up and “mature” many of us stifle or deny our natural curiosity. Let yourself be curious! Wonder to yourself about why things are happening. Ask someone in the know. The best way to exercise our curiosity is by asking “Why?” Make it a new habit to ask “why?” at least 10 times a day. Your brain will be happier and you will be amazed at how many opportunities and solutions will show up in your life and work.
Scientists tell us that laughter is good for our health; that it releases endorphins and other positively powerful chemicals into our system. We don’t really need scientists to tell us that it feels good to laugh. Laughing helps us reduce stress and break old patterns too. So laughter can be like a “quick-charge” for our brain’s batteries. Laugh more, and laugh harder.
5. Be a fish head.
Omega-3 oils, found in walnuts, flaxseed and especially fish, have long been touted as being healthy for the heart. But recent research suggests they’re a brain booster as well, and not just because they help the circulation system that pumps oxygen to your head. They also seem to improve the function of the membranes that surround brain cells, which may be why people who consume a lot of fish are less likely to suffer depression, dementia, even attention-deficit disorder. Scientists have noted that essential fatty acids are necessary for proper brain development in children, and they’re now being added to baby formulas. It’s possible that your own mental state, and even your intelligence, can be enhanced by consuming enough of these oils.
Eating at least three servings a week of fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna is a good start.