December 20, 2019
We’ve all been there—trying to remember an actor’s name, which is right on the tip of your tongue, only to hopelessly give in to Google’s promise of a quick, correct answer. What about pacing around the house in a hurry, desperately trying to remember where you left your keys? It’s incredibly frustrating to feel like your brain isn’t working to its fullest potential. Luckily, there are ways to keep the mind sharp and strong, improving things like memory and recall speed—something that becomes increasingly vital as we age.
Meditation is often referred to as “exercise for the brain,” training your focus and attention to be more present and mindful of tasks. Doctors have found that routinely engaging in meditation may help to reduce the thinning of the prefrontal cortex, which can keep memory loss and impaired concentration at bay.
After pulling an all-nighter or spending a night tossing and turning, trying to function quickly and effectively the following day is always difficult. That’s because sleep helps your brain work faster and more accurately, giving your neurons a break from the activities of yesterday, and preparing them for the stimuli of tomorrow. One City University of New York study showed that students who got inadequate sleep chose simpler math problems than those who slept well, meaning they were more likely to pass up difficult tasks, which is not exactly a promising way to get ahead. Sleep also improves memory attention, and the brain is actually better at establishing memories when you’re not awake.
We’ve all heard the phrase “brain food” or been urged to eat a balanced breakfast before a big meeting or exam. While there’s no single food that holds the key to a strong mind, nutritionists urge that one of the most important strategies for maintaining a sharp brain is to follow a nutrition plan filled with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Certain foods, like berries, fatty fish, and leafy greens, are particularly helpful in improving overall brain health and cultivating mental function. To reap the full brain-powering benefits of a healthy diet, stay consistent—this will ensure the memory and mood boost that nourishing foods promise.
As kids and young adults, school requires us to continually develop our brain and improve the critical thinking skills required to expand brain power. But, as we age, we’re often less exposed to the kind of cognitive tasks that we encounter in school. This can make us more susceptible to conditions like dementia, making consistent brain stimulation as important as physical health. Many adults choose to continue their education in order to both develop their academic abilities and keep their minds sharp. Scientists have called it a “fantastic tool for overall health” and consider it a primary factor for brain health specifically. Consider joining a book club, taking classes at your local community college, or signing up for a foreign language course.
Though its recent popularity in the self-improvement field has positioned brain training as another fad, it’s fundamental to the maintenance of cognitive skills throughout life. Brain training helps with skills like attention, memory, problem solving, reading, and psychosocial functioning. Often used by psychologists and occupational therapists, the exercises include puzzle games like crosswords and sudoku, reading, writing, playing an instrument, and cooking a new recipe.
Our minds are the most powerful tool we have, deserving of respect and proper care. Prioritizing our brain power ensures we honor our greatest asset, helping us to stay sharp, clever, and high-functioning.