FreeImages.com

Neuroscience Says These Rituals Can Help Your Brain Stay in Peak Condition

Research shows that staying sound of body and mind as we age is certainly possible—with a little effort.

Thanks to improvements in medicine, more of us are living longer. That makes we have a heightened investment in making sure our brains stay in shape as we age, too. While an increased life expectancy will not necessarily lead to a higher incidence of cognitive disorders, Alzheimer’s alone is expected to affect over seven million American seniors by 2025.

Lucky for us, advanced technologies have enabled researchers to understand how the brain works, what it responds to, and even how to retrain it. For instance, we know our brains prefer foods with high levels of antioxidants, including blueberries, kale, and nuts. We know that a Mediterranean diet, which is largely plant-based and rich in whole grain, fish, fruits, and red wine, can lead to higher brain functions. And we know that smiling can retrain our brains to look for positive possibilities rather than negative ones.

Whether you’re 25 or 65, consider adopting these five simple rituals that cognitive scientists say can help your brain grow new cells, form new neural pathways, improve cognition, and keep your outlook positive and sharp.

Congratulate yourself for small wins

The frequency of success matters more than the size of success, so don’t wait until the big wins to congratulate yourself, says B.J. Fogg,director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. Instead, come up with daily celebrations for yourself; your brain doesn’t know the difference between progress and perceived progress.

Both progress and setbacks are said to greatly influence our emotions. So the earlier in the day you can feel successful, the better—feelings of excitement help fuel behaviors that will set you up for successes. For instance, a productive morning routine can be used to motivate you through the rest of the day. We feel happier and encouraged as our energy levels increase, and feel anxiety or even depression as our energy levels go down.

Keep your body active

According to neurologist Etienne van der Walt, keeping active is one of the best ways to improve brain health. As he told Quartz earlier this year, “Specific forms of exercises have been shown to be very beneficial for … brain growth.”

Simply speaking, when we exercise, our heart rate increases, oxygen is pumped to the brain at a much faster rate, and new brain cells develop more quickly. The more brain cells we create, the easier it is for cells to communicate with one another, developing new neural pathways. Ultimately, our brains become more efficient and plastic, which means better cognitive performance.

A 2014 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that children who regularly exercised had higher “attentional inhibition,” defined by The New York Times as “the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand.” The Times article also noted that study participants ended the with “heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks.”

It doesn’t even take that much sweat to keep your brain in good shape. A study conductedby the department of exercise science at the University of Georgia in 2003 found that an exercise bout of just 20 minutes is enough to change the brain’s information processing and memory functions.

Bottom line: however you decide to keep active, just keep moving.

Stretch your brain muscles

Like other muscles in your body, if you don’t use the brain, you’ll eventually lose it. This means it’s crucial to exercise your brain and keep it stimulated.

Tara Swart, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes that it’s especially important to target areas of your brain that you use less frequently. Good suggestions for stretching your brain muscles include learning to speak a new language, learning to play a new instrument, or even learning to juggle.

To enhance his own cognitive prowess, author James Altucher tries to come up with new ideas every day. He writes about his daily system:

Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational book for 10 to 20 minutes. Then start writing down ideas. The key here is, write 10 ideas … a waiter’s pad is too small to write a whole novel or even a paragraph. In fact, it’s specifically made to make a list. And that’s all you want, a list of ideas.

Mid-way through the exercise, Altucher says his brain will actually start to “hurt.” Whether he ends up using the ideas or throwing them away is not the point. But it is important to vary your routine. Harvard psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, also believes that mixing things up and even allowing yourself to become distracted can be an important cognitive tool.

Sit upright

Mothers everywhere were really onto something when they instructed their children to sit up straight. Not only is an upright position found toincrease energy levels and enhance our overall mood, it’s also been shown to increase our confidence, as in this 2013 preliminary researchconducted by Harvard Business professor Amy Cuddy and her colleague, Maarten W. Bos.

In the study, the researchers found that people who sit in collapsed positions—usually adopted to look at small wireless devices like smartphones and tablets—were less likely to stand up for themselves. Participants with bad posture were also the slowest to ask if they could leave when the experiment had been declared over. On the other hand, participants who were randomly assigned larger devices, like laptops and desktops, were more likely to sit upright and be assertive in asking if they could leave.

From a purely cognitive perspective, positioning yourself in a powerless, crouched position can make your brain more predisposed towards hopelessness, as well as more likely to recall depressive memories and thoughts. Researchers say this phenomenon is ingrained in our biology and traces back to how body language is “closely tied to dominance across the animal kingdom,” as Cuddy writes in her new book, Presence.

So what’s the best way to ensure you feel powerful in both body and mind? Erik Peper, a professor who studies psychophysiology at San Francisco State University, advises checking your posture every hour to make sure you’re not in the iHunch, or iPosture, position. He also advises bringing smaller devices up to your face while in use instead of forcing yourself to look downward at them in a collapsed position.

Sleep with your phone away from your head

Even if your smartphone is on silent and doesn’t actually go off or wake you up, keeping your device nearby may affect your brain patterns. While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the topic of wireless devices, preliminary research suggests the 3G and 4G signalsemitted from your smartphone may be preventing you from falling into sleep patterns deep enough to flush harmful beta-amyloid from your brain.

According to Tara Swart, a senior lecturer at MIT specializing in sleep and the brain, our brains’ natural cleansing system requires six to eight hours of sleep. Without it, brains eventually encounter major build-ups of beta-amyloid, a neurotoxin found in clumps in the brains of people with neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

While scientists have always known that the brain cleanses wastes, much like the body, the sophistication of this cleansing system wasinvestigated in 2013 by Maiken Nedergaard of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester. This study found “hidden caves” that open up in our brains when we’re in a deep enough sleep. This liquid cleaning system, dubbed the “glymphatic system,” enables copious amounts of neurotoxins to be pushed through the spinal column.

So, exactly how far away do you need to keep your smart devices? We’re not completely sure, but Swart says it’s a good idea to not sleep with it next to your head. Ultimately, keeping our brains healthy takes willpower and resilience, just like with any other part of our bodies. But as research shows, staying sound of body and mind as we age is certainly possible—with a little effort.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.