Who doesn’t want to prevent the age-related problems of memory loss, mental fatigue, and trouble concentrating so often seen in the elderly? But the truth of the matter is something that may surprise you: You not only can prevent brain dysfunction, but correct it, and, actually grow your brain. It’s not a fantasy; it’s real. The first step is the most difficult—deciding you really want to do it.
Not too long ago, most researchers and healthcare professionals thought it was impossible to improve the brain once it’s damaged or loses function with age. This not only includes intelligence, but the brain’s ability to regulate muscles, hormones, vision, and its many other functions. But scientists now know that stimulating the brain through the five senses—eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste—and just by thinking certain ways, will trigger new connections within the brain, and between the brain and body. It’s even possible to grow new brain cells through these activities.
The place to start is with a healthy diet, especially in controlling blood sugar, and physical activity, all of which can dramatically improve brain funtion.
With the right mental activity, blood flow to the brain increases, bringing more oxygen and other nutrients to cells—another key step to better brain function.
Listed here are some powerful routines to significantly help your brain.
1. Finger Touching.
Learning to type or play the piano are powerful brain exercises. Typing, the real format of touch-typing, not poking at keys with one or two fingers, is relatively easy to learn. There are many Internet sites, programs and booklets available. It involves using all your fingers. Learning the piano does essentially the same thing – you teach your brain to place your fingers on specific areas of the keyboard, guided by your brain. Both touch-typing and playing the piano work both sides of the brain, with many sensory and motor brain regions stimulated. Too many of our daily activities activate only one part of the brain, leaving the less-dominant areas relatively inactive
2. Stimulate taste and smell.
These are both very powerful ways to improve brain function. Stimulate your sense of taste and smell daily with different types and textures of food, spices, oils and other pleasant sensations. Each healthy meal is a great opportunity—something you can’t do when you rush your meal. Avoid artificial and chemical tastes and smells. The sense of smell is especially powerful and is associated with the memory centers of the brain, so don’t be surprised if certain sensations bring back interesting memories.
3. Be Bilateral.
From an early age one learns to be unilateral—to do things one-sided. The most common example is using your right hand for most things if you’re right handed. (This is different than being ambidextrous, which refers to the ability to do things equally well from both sides.) Evaluate your habits and start using your opposite hand, and foot, for more activities. It will seem odd at first, but even performing this task once starts improving brain function. Be careful with things that can be potentially dangerous such as shaving or using the opposite foot for the brakes while driving.
4. Brain Routes.
In your mind’s eye, take a tour of a common route in your life—your drive to work, a walking trail, or the train to the office. As you go through the chosen path, recall as many objects, smells, sounds and colors as possible. Visualizing routes pumps blood to the memory centers of the brain, feeding the cells there. Many memory experts use routes to memorize large amounts of data. You could easily memorize something shorter—a poem, song or list of things using routes. Here’s how. Using a familiar route, attach a key word or phrase of your poem or list you want to memorize to objects you see along the way. Then, when you want to recall your poem or list, think of each point of the route and the key words or phrase will come out of your memory.
5. Create Categories.
Many brain functions are best accomplished by creating categories of information. This can help improve the speed of your thinking. As an example, suppose you had a long list of items to buy in the grocery store: red peppers, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, blueberries, beets and eggplant. Instead of writing a list, create a single mental category containing those different items. In this case, the category could be rainbow. Then, further categorize the list of fruits and vegetables into their respective colors: red (peppers, tomatoes, beets); purple (blueberries; eggplant), green (lettuce, zucchini), and yellow (summer squash, onions). Keep the number of items in one category to no more than 10. Once those bits of information are entered into the brain, it can be treated as one chunk. So instead of having to remember 10 things, you only have to recall one. Chunking is very effective for helping memory recall and long-term memory. Other categories can be created by asking yourself questions. As an exercise, ask yourself, what are five ways of using a ballpoint pen when the ink is gone? What are five things you can do with a shoe other than wear it? The more fun and challenging you make the questions and answers, the more you stimulate your brain.
6. Learn a Language.
While the optimal window of opportunity to learn language occurs before age seven, adults can still learn other languages. Pick one you’ve always wanted to speak. There are many booklets, tapes, and other learning tools available, and most likely you know someone who speaks another language who can help. Add one new word to your vocabulary each day, and use it in your daily life. Listen to “native” speakers through recordings or people you know. If you’re learning Japanese, for example, go to your favorite sushi bar and speak with the chef, or if Italian, to your local Italian deli (they will love talking with you). Like everything else, have fun doing it. The non-Latin based languages may be best, including Japanese and Chinese, but any language works well for the brain.
At least seven major areas of the brain are activated during the telling of a story. Before the age of printing, people relied upon the oral tradition of storytelling to pass on great works of poetry and sagas (the most famous examples are Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad). While memorizing stories and poems stimulate brain function, storytelling is even more creative and imaginative for brain development. Dream up some exciting stories, or use real life experiences if you aren’t feeling creative, then put “twists” on the truth such that you have created fantasies that may be silly, romantic, or wildly unbelievable. Have a story-telling wine and cheese party, write down your tales, go to an open-microphone gathering at a café and tell stories, or just talk to yourself. Even daydreaming your stories, like during one of those boring business meetings, will be great for your brain.
Being in love is a powerful stimulus for the brain. Studies that address longevity and healthy brain function show the importance of having a loving and stimulating partner. Contrary to many beliefs, a relationship should not be hard work—this actually reduces brain function. If you are laboring to get along with your partner, it may be time for a healthy change.
9. Live your passion.
Get in touch with what you really enjoy doing in life—and do it! Don’t wait. And, as much as possible, avoid doing things you don’t do well. (Unless of course, it’s something you really love, then learn how to do it well). Many studies have shown how the brain lights up when doing something enjoyable.
10. Get adequate sleep.
Most adults need at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night; Children need 10 to 12 or more. Create the best sleeping environment by eliminating noises, electronics and lights in the bedroom. Have a healthy, comfortable bed and natural bedding. Keep the room a bit cooler and assure enough humidity in the air. To better prepare for a good night, take a warm bath before bed. Avoid pre-sleep bad habits: TV can negatively affect the brain, drinking alcohol within at least two hours before bed can disturb sleep, likewise with caffeinated drinks. And of course, avoid processed carbohydrates. And if you want to read late in the evening, do it on a couch or chair in the living room or study instead of in bed. One way to find out how much sleep you need is to avoid using an alarm clock. Go to bed when you feel tired and get out of bed when you wake up.
11. Change routines.
While having a routine can make what you’re doing more efficient, making changes will challenge the brain to grow and develop new pathways. Examples of changes include using a different hand for your computer mouse, taking a slightly different walking or driving route, and changing the décor, even just re-arranging the furniture, of your home or office with the seasons.
Too many people wait until their brain dysfunction become obvious before trying to do something about it. While much can be done for those with brain injury, the time to grow and improve the brain is the present.