By Shana Lebowitz
August 2, 2013
Summer is in full swing, but that's no reason to let the brain veg. To keep that noggin in tip-top shape, we've put together a list of new and creative ways to boost our brainpower, like golfing, mowing the lawn, and munching on pumpkin seeds. Read on for more easy ways to hit genius status pronto.
1. Aerobic Exercise: Read books, study hard — and do jumping jacks? There’s a ton of research on the link between exercise and cognitive function. And aerobic exercise seems like an especially great way to make it to MENSA — one study showed adults’ brain-processing speed improved after half an hour of moderate exercise. Do the brain a favor and get moving!
2. Listening to Music While Exercising: Pitbull, Lady Gaga, or old-school Madonna, pumping up the jams while working out can improve cognitive functions. In one study, cardiovascular rehabilitation patients who exercised to music performed better on a test of verbal fluency than those who worked out sans tunes. Or maybe just waltz your way through a workout — other studies suggest listening to classical music can improve spatial processing and linguistic abilities. A way to work the brain and the muscles? Now that’s music to our ears.
3. Strength Training: Bulk up the brain and hit the weight room. Research suggests strength training not only builds strong muscles and bones — it can also boost cognitive functioning. That’s because lifting weights may increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which controls the growth of nerve cells.
4. Dance: Bust a brain-boosting move on the dance floor this weekend. Research suggests dancing involves mental challenges like coordination and planning, and may protect against cognitive decline. Duh — has anyone ever done the Macarena?
5. Golf: Take it from Tiger and take a swing. A few rounds of golf may do more than just work out the arms. One study found golfing causes structural changes in the parts of the brain associated with sensorimotor control. Get smart and hit the green.
6. Yoga: A math test or spelling bee may be the last thing on anyone’s mind during savasana. But research suggests yoga can improve mood and concentration, enhance cognitive performance, and even prevent cognitive decline in older adults. Namaste, Einstein.
7. A Good Night’s Sleep: Stay up all night studying or hit the hay? Slipping between the sheets might be the better option: For most people, a solid seven hours of sleep is important to maintain cognitive skills such as learning, concentration, and memory. One study even showed people who slept in on the weekends were sharper during the week. Just don’t nod off during the meeting…
8. Power Naps: For those who didn’t quite catch enough Zzzs last night, a power nap may be just the thing to help stay focused. It’s unclear how long the nap should last — in one study, young adults who napped for 90 minutes showed significant improvements in memory. But other research suggests even naps that last a few minutes can increase alertness. On the other hand, some scientists say naps only improve memory if they involve dreaming.
9. Breaking a Routine: If the barista at the local coffee shop knows what “I’ll have the usual” means, it might be time to change that routine. Adding a twist to the day keeps the brain on its toes — try wearing a watch upside down or brushing your teeth with a non-dominant hand.
10. Getting Organized: Leftover pizza crust and a pile of old receipts are more than just unsightly — they may also impede our ability to get stuff done. Clear the desk and the mind at the same time: An organized workspace may help improve memory and cognitive skills.
11. Doodling: Stick it to those elementary school teachers and fill every margin to the brim. Research suggests doodling during a cognitive task helps improve memory because it keeps the brain stimulated. Just don’t draw funny pictures of the boss.
12. Letting the Mind Wander: Whether it’s “listening” to a pal talk about her BF or just strolling down the block, there are lots of times when the mind goes off in strange directions. But don’t hold back that brain — it turns out there are lots of cognitive benefits to letting the mind wander, like increased creativity and problem-solving ability.
13. Flossing: Fresh breath, fewer cavities, and avoiding embarrassing situations with poppy seeds are all great reasons to floss. Here’s another: The plaque that accumulates between teeth can actually trigger an immune response that prevents arteries from getting nutrients to the brain. Pick up some mental — er, dental — floss on the way home today.
14. Lawn Mowing: The grass is always greener, and the brain may be sharper, after we mow the lawn. One study found lawn-mowing releases a chemical that relieves stress and might even boost memory in older adults. Unfortunately, the odor of taking out the trash probably doesn’t have the same effect.
15. Writing by Hand: Sans Serif and Cambria are awfully elegant, but writing words by hand can improve cognitive skills like learning and memory. Adults studying a new language may be more likely to remember words when they write them out instead of typing them. Stay sharp by writing out a to-do list or penning a heartfelt confession of love.
16. Sharpening the Senses: How exactly does that cold water feel traveling down the back of your throat? It’s important to challenge the brain in shape bykeeping all the senses sharp. Try involving new senses in routine activities, likeeating with the eyes closed and placing more emphasis on taste and smell (probably not the best exercise to try with hot soup).
17. Sex: Let’s get it on — our brainpower, that is. Research suggests sex can actually improve cognitive skills. A tumble between the sheets raises levels of serotonin, which boosts creativity and logical decision-making, and the hormone oxytocin, related to problem-solving ability (skills that might help with figuring out where those undergarments ended up last night…).
18. Positive Relationships: I get by — and smart! — with a little help from my friends. A study of elderly Americans suggests positive relationships can helpprotect against memory loss. Spend some time with friends and fam today to avoid forgetting their names later in life.
19. Pleasant Conversation: Oh, how do you do? A quick chat may do more than just pass the time — socializing can also improve cognitive functioning. Even simple conversations may improve skills like memory and the brain’s ability to block out distractions. Take a few minutes to talk it out before the next big test or meeting.
20. Laughter: Gosh, isn’t the brain funny?! A hearty laugh may be the key to solving a tough problem, since research suggests laughing encourages people to think more creatively. Panicking about what to say in a big presentation? Just picture everyone in their underwear.
21. Thinking About Ancestors: Brainpower’s a family affair. In one study, people who thought about their ancestors before a series of cognitive tests performed better than people who focused on something else. Researchers surmise thinking about family history increases people’s sense of control. These test results? I got ’em from my mama!
Read the rest at Greatist.
Image via Ana Aviskina/Shutterstock.com
By Shana Lebowitz
August 2, 2013