Plenty of people put an emphasis on being “smart”. The ability to learn and retain useful information is an important lifelong skill. It’s easy to envy someone else for their wealth, beauty, or proportional physique. But do you ever find yourself feeling jealous of someone’s seemingly effortless ability to learn new things? Similarly, have you ever wished you had the same strong memory you had in your youth?
Your mind — both the conscious and the subconscious — is the workhorse that is responsible for governing every action you take, so the desire to keep it strong and active is natural. The good news is that we can do a few incredibly easy things every day to ensure that our minds are working at peak performance.
FOOD AFFECTS MENTAL SHARPNESS
Your diet may not be the first thing you think of when looking for major players in your cognitive function, but your gut is often referred to as your “second brain”. In fact, the majority of your body’s serotonin — the chemical which plays a vital role in brain functions such as emotional wellness, sleep, and even sex-drive — is concentrated in the gut, with over 90% being produced and used there.
Given that your gut and brain are interconnected and dependant on each other in this and many other surprising ways, that old saying "you are what you eat" may have more science behind it than we realize. If we want optimal results, we need to make sure we are feeding our bodies things that will help, rather than hurt, our cognitive function.
Other than eating a balanced diet there are some vitamins that have been found to be helpful in keeping your mind sharp. Numerous foods have proven benefits on mind and body alike. Omega 3s and Vitamin D have been shown to aid in memory and learning, probiotics assist with gut health and improved immunity, and Vitamin B12 protects against brain atrophy in old age.
MOVEMENT IMPROVES MEMORY
A good workout, a brisk walk, or a short jog has the ability to increase blood flow to your brain – more specifically the hippocampus – which is responsible for memory. There are studies showing that people who did more aerobic exercise had less tissue density loss than those who did not exercise regularly. And yet other studies show that exercise helps you to better handle stress, make clear decisions, and improves your ability to learn.
If exercise is the yin of body/brain wellness, meditation is the yang. Mental focus and clear thinking can wane when you are stressed out. There’s no question that meditation is a great tool to de-stress and improve your overall mood, but studies show that meditation actually activates parts of your brain important for memory and learning. It even raises IQ scores over time. Getting physical doesn’t just mean exercising your brains out (no pun intended). Spending your time on the go is good for your health, but also make sure to reserve time for the physical relief that only meditation brings.
It is easy to get into a less-than-optimal routine. Maybe you’re feeling overdue for a veg session, or perhaps you legitimately don’t have time to take on something new. Even though your brain is an organ, treating it like a muscle brings similar benefits as physical exercise provides your body.
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FROM THE COMFORT
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Your brain needs to be challenged and stimulated every day to keep it sharp. There are many recommended things that we can do like listening to music, reading, or even spending a few minutes on fun (but mentally challenging) activities such as crossword puzzles.
You can make other changes like watching a documentary instead of scrolling social media or watching the latest episode of whichever reality tv show is popular at the moment. Even going for a walk in a new area or driving a different way to work will light up new pathways in your brain. Take the time to notice the things around you and then try to remember them later in the day, memorize a poem, or commit a new phone number you need to memory instead of just letting your smartphone do it for you.
MY PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS
Your brain function isn’t set in stone. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you can do some simple things to boost your brain function. Keeping your stress levels down, eating right, and exercising your mind and body are important tools to help you achieve greater cognitive function.