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.
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.
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: