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Get Smart: The Secret to Brain Strengthening

03-03-2017

Get Smart: The Secret to Brain Strengthening

Our brains change as we age. We grow wiser (thank goodness!)—but we also grow more forgetful. For many years, scientists thought that the gradual loss of brain neurons as we age was inevitable. And over time, the brain does decrease slightly in volume and weight. But before you blame your shrinking brain for your forgetfulness, take heart: new research proves that even adult brains can form new neurons. So what’s the secret to staying sharp? Embracing a healthy lifestyle and a training regimen for your brain.

If you’ve ever been serious about strength training, you’ve heard the expression “use it or lose it.” Even though the brain is technically an organ, not a muscle, the same rule applies. To improve cognitive health, mental function and memory retention, we must exercise and challenge our brain regularly. March marks national Brain Awareness Month, a time when our nation recognizes the importance of brain science. It’s also a perfect prompt to kickstart your own brain training program. Even just a few simple lifestyle changes can make a significant impact on your cognitive health. Our team rounded up several ways to grow your gray matter, along with our favorite brain-strengthening apps:

1. Try mono-tasking.
Thanks to our computers and smart phones, we are surrounded by distractions. A text lights up our phone; an email comes in; an online search can provide answers in seconds. But did you know that if you toggle between activities, it can take up 25 minutes to return your full focus to your original task? Instead of multi-tasking, try focusing on one thing at a time. Really. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work steadily, even if you have to close your email or put away your phone. Make mono-tasking a regular practice and watch your focus improve.

2. Meditate.

Does the idea of sitting still and emptying your mind seem intimidating or even impossible? It doesn’t have to. Research proves that in addition to lowering blood pressure and stress levels, meditation can improve your attention span and mental acuity. Even just 10–20 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference.

3. Exercise.

If you needed another reason to hit the gym, here’s one: regular exercise improves circulation, moving protein and nutrients to your brain—which ultimately helps improve memory retention and thinking. Plus, the same discipline and willpower it requires to push through a challenging physical workout will pay off next time you need to exercise your ability to stay focused.

4. Feed your brain.

Like any other organ or muscle, your brain needs high-quality, nourishing fuel to function optimally. Choose foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids, which help improve mental concentration and memory retention. You’ll find these nutrients in foods like walnuts, eggs, dark leafy greens, oily fish (like salmon or trout), flaxseed, berries, coffee and dark chocolate. Bonus? The rest of your body will benefit from this diet, too.

5. Challenge your mind.

There’s nothing wrong with zoning out to some reality TV now and then, but your mind needs regular exercise and stimulation. Reading is one of the best ways to work your brain, along with puzzles, Sudoku, intellectual conversation and brain-strengthening apps. Portable and always accessible, brain-strengthening apps are an ideal way to make good use of down time when you’re out and about. So, instead of scrolling through your Facebook feed next time you’re in a waiting room, try one of these top-rated mental apps:

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