If you don’t keep your mind active, your brain can lose some of its functionality as you age, which causes memory loss, brain fog, and even Alzheimer’s, studies show. A well-stimulated brain elevates your mood, which helps you feel better on the inside.
Brain-training efforts designed to improve working memory can also boost scores in general problem-solving ability and improve fluid intelligence, according to University of Michigan research from 2008. Many psychologists believe general intelligence can be separated into “fluid” and “crystalline” components. Fluid intelligence, considered one of the most important factors in learning, applies to all problems while crystallized intelligence consists of skills useful for specific tasks.
Here are 15 brain boosting activities that could help you maintain a healthy mind:
1. Play games that challenge and stimulate your mind
Although the evidence of brain benefits from game playing is sparse and often contradictory, engaging in mental challenges that you find enjoyable is a good way to spend some spare time, and surely can’t hurt.
Researchers at the University of Sydney have found that engaging in computer-based brain training can improve memory and mood in older adults with mild cognitive impairment — but training is no longer effective once a dementia diagnosis has been made.
The team, comprising researchers from the Brain and Mind Centre, reviewed more than 20 years of research and showed that brain training could lead to improvements in global cognition, memory, learning and attention, as well as psychosocial functioning (mood and self-perceived quality of life) in people with mild cognitive impairment. Conversely, when data from 12 studies of brain training in people with dementia was combined, results were not positive.
Try such things as:
- Picture Puzzles
- Strategy Games
- Crossword Puzzles
- Card Games
- Deduction Games (such as Clue)
- Visualization Puzzles
- Optical Illusions
2. Read A Good Novel
Reading stimulates the brain as it activates your imagination. Reading also helps with memory retention and problem solving, especially if you’re reading a mystery. Also, self-help books stimulate your brain by helping you to think for yourself, as well as find solutions in your mind.
In 2003, researchers published a paper demonstrating that reading literary fiction enhances a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships — and functional societies. These researchers performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants’ Theory of Mind, the complex social skill of “mind-reading” to understand others’ mental states.
Interestingly, the study showed that not just any fiction fosters Theory of Mind, rather the literary quality of the fiction is the determining factor. The literary texts used in the experiments had vastly different content and subject matter, but all produced similarly high Theory of Mind results. Literary fiction works were represented by excerpts from recent National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction.
3. Exercising helps circulate blood that carries oxygen to your brain
Over the long-term, exercise is proven to increase brainpower and even create new neurons. MRI scans have revealed that endurance runners’ brains have greater functional connectivity than the brains of more sedentary people.
Researchers compared brain scans of young-adult cross-country runners to young adults who don’t engage in regular physical activity. The runners, overall, showed greater functional connectivity — connections between distinct brain regions — within several areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex, which is important for cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making, and the ability to switch attention between tasks.
Stimulate your brain with meditation. Meditation has been shown to increase your IQ, relieve stress, and promote a higher level of brain functioning.
Meditation also stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area of the brain responsible for advanced thinking, ability and performance.
A 2012 report by UCLA researchers showed that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.
Deep breathing helps deliver oxygen to your brain. Oxygen helps you be more alert and awake. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of deep breathing daily can increase brain functionality.
Controlled breathing at a slowed rate can also significantly reduce feelings of pain, according to 2010 research. Chronic pain sufferers, specifically fibromyalgia patients, also reported less pain while breathing slowly, unless they were overwhelmed by negative feelings, sadness or depression.
6. Omega 3
Taking fish oil supplements is literally like membrane material for the brain. The two primary components in omega 3 fatty acid fish oil, DHA and EPA, strengthen the emotional center of the brain and boost focus.
Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science who has spent years studying the effects of food, exercise and sleep on the brain, says:
“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain. Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging.”
Omega-3 fatty acids – found in salmon, walnuts and kiwi fruit – provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia, said Gómez-Pinilla, a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center.
Synapses in the brain connect neurons and provide critical functions; much learning and memory occurs at the synapses, Gómez-Pinilla said.
“Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses,” Gómez-Pinilla said. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function
7. Add Some Music To Your Day
Studies have proven that listening to music strengthens the right hemisphere of the brain and actually changes the structure of it. Also, people who listen to music are shown to be more emotionally intelligent than those who don’t.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a research team, led by Dr. Vinoo Alluri from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, recorded the brain responses of individuals who were listening to a piece of modern Argentinian tango. Subsequently, using sophisticated computer algorithms, they analyzed the musical content of the tango, showing how its rhythmic, tonal and timbral components evolve over time.
This was the first time such a study has been carried out using real music instead of artificially constructed music-like sound stimuli. Comparison of the brain responses and the musical features revealed many interesting things.
The researchers found that music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined.
Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.
And writing by hand strengthens the learning process.
When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired. Neurophysiologists have examined research which goes a long way in confirming the significance of these differences.
When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.
“Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks,”
explains asssociate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre.
9. Get Some Sleep
Sleep clears out brain clutter and reduces brain fog. When you don’t get enough sleep at night, your memory and normal brain function suffers.
Four days’ exposure to a REM sleep deprivation procedure reduces cell proliferation in the part of the forebrain that contributes to long-term memory in rats, according to a 2008 study.
Researchers have also found that a lack of sleep, which is common in anxiety disorders, may play a key role in ramping up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.
10. Get Creative
Painting is shown to be an effective brain booster in that it sparks the creativity within you. Even if you’ve never tried painting before, give it a shot. You’ll find that you feel more creative and may actually enjoy it.
One possible explanation for the link between mental health and creativity was found in a study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. By studying receptors in the brain, researchers managed to show that the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.
11. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Starting the day out with a good breakfast has been proven to supply energy to the brain and body for the whole day. When you skip breakfast, you’re missing out on a powerful edge, both physically and mentally.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that children who regularly have breakfast on a near-daily basis had significantly higher full scale, verbal, and performance IQ test scores.
In one of the first studies to examine IQ and breakfast consumption, researchers examined data from 1,269 children six years old in China, where breakfast is highly valued, and concluded that children who did not eat breakfast regularly had 5.58 points lower verbal, 2.50 points lower performance, and 4.6 points lower total IQ scores than children who often or always ate breakfast after adjusting for seven sociodemographic factors.
12. Go Take A Walk
Walking allows you to clear your mind and thoughts. Not only is it good exercise for your body, walking gives your brain a chance to wander freely, clearing it of any troublesome thoughts.
In one of the first studies to examine the effect of nature walks on cognition and mood in people with major depression, researchers in Canada and the US found evidence that a walk in the park may provide some cognitive benefits. Participants showed a 16 percent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk relative to the urban walk.
Interestingly, interacting with nature did not alleviate depressive mood to any noticeable degree over urban walks, as negative mood decreased and positive mood increased after both walks to a significant and equal extent. This suggests that separate brain mechanisms may underlie the cognitive and mood changes of interacting with nature.
13. Juice Up
Drink a serving of pure fruit juice. Fruit juice contains nutrients that revitalize and refresh the brain. Juices to drink are pomegranate, blueberry, and cranberry as they deliver more focus and energy.
In the study, one group of volunteers in their 70s with early memory decline drank the equivalent of 2-2 l/2 cups of a commercially available blueberry juice every day for two months. A control group drank a beverage without blueberry juice. The blueberry juice group showed significant improvement on learning and memory tests, the scientists say.
“These preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration,” said the report.
14. Coffee Cure
Students who drink some caffeine before an exam typically have higher scores than those who don’t. This is because caffeine stimulates activity in the brain, which produces better focus and thinking ability. Don’t overdo it though.
In a 2011 report, Annia Galano and Jorge Rafael León-Carmona described evidence suggesting that coffee is one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants in the average person’s diet.
Some of the newest research points to caffeine, also present in tea, cocoa, and other foods, as the source of powerful antioxidant effects that may help protect people from Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
15. Drawing Comfort
Draw a picture. Like painting, drawing stimulates the creative side of your brain. So get out some colored pencils and start boosting your brainpower.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have found that drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered is a strong and reliable strategy to enhance memory. Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words.
To get the most out of these brain boosting activities, mix them up and do a variety of them at different times. Just trying one likely won’t boost your brainpower. However, combining and alternating them just may give your brain the added boost you need now and in the long run.