Improve Mind Power

Humans are fortunate in that we have brain plasticity--the ability to change and grow our brain function. You can build new connections and perhaps even grow new brain cells by keeping your mind and body stimulated.[1] And a small amount of effort to improve cognitive function has disproportionately large positive payoffs,[2] so read on to learn how to cultivate your brain power.


Exercising Your Brain

  1. Learn new skills. By learning new skills, you keep your brain engaged and challenged, which can build new neural connections and improve your cognitive function.
    • Learning a new language is an excellent way to expand your mind. It will force your brain to work in ways it isn’t accustomed to and can help you see the world around you from a new linguistic perspective.
    • Trying new activities or hobbies can also help keep your brain tuned up. Look for opportunities to learn how to do new things, like taking ballroom dance, a martial art, a sewing class, or a writing workshop.
    • Play games. Playing new games with friends or family, particularly more intensive games like chess or cribbage, can help you add to and enhance your cognitive abilities.[1]
  2. Cultivate curiosity. Don’t accept things as they are. Instead, learn to constantly question things--even things that seem obvious or basic.[3]
    • Deliberately seek out things that are new and different. While it may be tempting to avoid rather than pursue things that are strange or different--new foods or dining styles, new religious ceremonies, new neighborhoods, etc.--your brain builds new and more diverse connections each time it encounters something unfamiliar or difficult to understand. Embrace challenges to your ideas, beliefs, and experiences.
  3. Read. Reading engages your brain as well as your imagination and is an excellent way to learn new things and to learn to see people, places, things, and ideas in new and different ways.
    • Seek out reading that’s at least moderately challenging in terms of its vocabulary, content, or ideas. Look for readings that can not only grant you access to new knowledge, but allow you to explore new and different ideas, perspectives, and beliefs as well.
  4. Do brain games and puzzles. There are all kinds of games available designed to keep your brain limber and fit. Look around, experiment, and find what works for you.[4]
    • The old standbys of crossword puzzles and logic games have been around for some time, and they persist today because they work--they’re excellent ways to challenge and expand your thinking skills.
    • Newer alternatives for challenging your brain are available online and as smartphone apps. Many sites offer games designed to keep your mind active and engaged, so rather than spend your downtime browsing cat pictures, consider trying a virtual brain-game.
  5. Focus and review. Commit to focusing closely on learning and improving your thinking. When you come across a new idea or fact, focus on learning about it and committing it to memory. Then, periodically go back over the new ideas and facts you’ve learned and rehearse them to yourself.
    • Revisiting new information this way--particularly soon after learning it--is key to incorporating it in a meaningful and lasting way into your memory.
    • It may seem trivial, but it turns out that just making up your mind to focus and commit to a new idea will help you retain it.
  6. Write things down--longhand. Research has shown that writing down new information longhand helps you integrate it more thoroughly and recall it more easily.[5]
    • For example, while listening to new information in a meeting, conference, or class, write out the most important information. Be sure to write legibly and to review what you’ve written down afterwards to help it stay fixed in your mind.
  7. Involve your senses. Try to relate new information to your five senses to help you absorb and retain it.
    • Relate the idea or fact to a taste, tactile feeling, smell, or image. The more multi-sensory you can make it, the more powerfully it will stay with you.[5]
      • Most people already relate the smell of their favorite food to it's taste and to the experiences they've had consuming it.
    • Another thing to try is counting the number of people in a room. This will help you quickly develop a sharper mind when it comes to remembering, especially if the people are milling around in a hallway or something like that.
    • For example, if you want to remember that you left your keys on the counter next to the sugar bowl, make an effort to associate the thought of your keys with the taste of sugar and the whiteness (or whatever color) or the countertop.

Nurturing Your Brain

  1. Stop smoking. Researchers have found evidence that smoking impedes cognitive function and may even shrink the size of your brain’s hippocampus.[2]
    • Research has shown that smoking can decrease abilities related to memory, planning, and overall mental ability.[6]
  2. Eat well. There are a number of foods that researchers believe can lend themselves to improved brain function. Of course, eating walnuts won’t make you a genius, but it may help your brain do what it needs to, and maybe do it a bit better.
    • Food high in omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts and fish, are important to brain development and may help regulate mood and concentration.[7]
    • Eating foods rich in magnesium is also believed to improve brain function, and, because many people are magnesium deficient, increasing your intake might also be a good idea in general.[8]
    • Antioxidant-rich foods are believed to help protect the brain from degeneration and are primarily found in fruits and vegetables. The darker the fruit or vegetable, the higher it usually is in antioxidants.[9] For example, blueberries, blackberries, plums, red beans, and black beans are all high in antioxidants.[10]
    • Food rich in whole grains helps to regulate your body’s glucose levels, and because glucose is what your brain uses for fuel, keeping your levels steady is important to your mood and ability to concentrate. Good sources of whole grains include foods like steel-cut oatmeal, brown rice, and oat bran.[11]
  3. Exercise regularly. Maintaining an exercise routine and a healthy diet is important for not just your physical health but for your mental health as well.[5] Cardio activity releases a potent mix of hormones important to improving mood, relieving stress, and boosting concentration.[12]
    • A number of studies have connected exercise with improved cognitive function, including memory, attention, and the ability to move easily between different tasks.[2]
    • Though there isn’t an absolute consensus, many experts recommend moderate cardio activity 2-3 times a week in order to get the full mental benefit of exercise.
  4. Get enough sleep. You’ve certainly been admonished about it often enough, but sleep is important. And it turns out it’s notably important to good brain function.
    • Get at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Not only will it help you to concentrate and keep you alert, it will also help prevent loss of gray matter in your brain over time.
  5. Meditate. Research has shown that daily meditation can improve your brain as well as your well-being. Meditation is believed to particularly improve decision-making and information-processing abilities.[13]
    • Meditative practices like yoga and tai chi have also been found to improve mood and mental function.[14]

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