1. Just Use It
Did you know over 30% of high school graduates and over 40% of college graduates never read another book in their lives? If you want to keep your brain sharp, you have to keep those neurons firing. A good goal if you aren’t in the reading habit is one book per month. After a few months, see if you can step it up to one book per week. Television is passive while reading is active. I don’t have television anymore, and this helps me achieve my aim of reading 2 or 3 books weekly. (Though some books take a lot longer than others!) Developing the reading habit is difficult at first because it takes work. But, like physical exercise for your body, that’s how you know it is actually benefiting your brain. You don’t have to crawl in agony through Ulysses (seriously, take my word for it, you don’t); non-fiction and history are great choices, as well.
2. Stay Nimble
It’s a great idea to do crossword puzzles, games, quizzes, memory tests, and other mind-twisters. Even online computer games and Sudoku puzzles are fun ways to keep your brain active and sharp. Find some you like and do them frequently. Here are some games; or you can develop your logical reasoning. I like to study the logical fallacies. Yep, I’m a nerd. Sweet!
3. Get Enough Sleep!
Though it should go without saying, if you do not get adequate sleep every night, your cognitive function will be severely impaired. I used to have trouble sleeping, and even after dietary changes and increased exercise, I still had a tough time falling asleep. This made me grouchy in the mornings. I finally realized I wasn’t giving myself enough “processing” time. I would work and read and write all day, and then I’d exercise and try to go straight to bed. Bad idea. Now I play a little every night and even – horror of horrors – turn off the computer. Sometimes I slip back into my old ways, but I’m getting better. If you’ve got some good sleep tips, pass them along to the rest of us!
4. Drink water.
One of the simplest ways to stay alert and refreshed – particularly in the afternoon slump – is to drink pure, cool water. I used to enjoy running down to Starbucks for an afternoon latte, until my neighbor encouraged me to drink two full glasses of water after lunch instead. Not only is this much less costly, it’s very effective. Try it. (I still love my morning coffee, though…)
5. Manage stress. Here’s one tip.
Obviously, if you are stressed, your powers of concentration and your ability to be productive can become severely hampered. Though life has its ups and downs and we can’t eliminate stress entirely, managing it is key to maximizing your brainpower. There are many ways to do this, of course. I’d love for you to share your tips in the comments. Here’s one small thing that really made a significant change for me. We often say “it’s going to work out” when we are feeling anxious or uncertain. I’m betting you’ve probably said it many times, right? It’s a rational, sensible thing to say, after all. One day early this past summer, I was sitting idly in traffic thinking about a recent setback. I suddenly found myself thinking “no, it’s not going to work out – it is working out”. I started saying it to myself a lot. Being a so-called “type A” (A+, according to my friends), the tendency to over-think will probably always be something I have to manage. But simply making that verb change was really effective for me. It keeps me in the present instead of me wasting my present concentrating on possible futures that may or may not happen. This might seem obvious to you, but it really works well for me!
6. Cover the physical bases.
This means eating the right foods, for starters. Imagine your best friend wants to get healthy. You’d help them focus on eating the freshest, most natural, nutritious foods, and you wouldn’t tempt them with junk food, sugars, and processed snacks. Okay – your best friend is you.
7. Fish oil!
You all know I’m a dietary fat fanatic. I eat lots of fat, but I also take Mark’s fish oil pills – usually a double-dose, in fact. I recently went about a week without taking any out of sheer and utter slackitude, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. Hundreds of studies have confirmed the amazing benefits of essential fatty acids – such as those available in fish oil – for your cognition, memory, and mood. I recommend going to PubMed and running a quick search if you want to start digging into the studies (they’re endless).
8. Don’t do things that will shrink your brain (literally).
Smoking and drug abuse and alcoholism have major consequences on mental function down the line. Nobody is perfect and we all have our indulgences, but if you are struggling with addiction or think you might be, do not be afraid to seek help.
Two 20-year-old female brains during memory task. Photo source.
There are many more excellent tips to improve cognition, memory, alertness and aptitude. What are yours?