09 January 2012

This is the boost my brain power

Courtesy of hawkexpress on Flickr
Sometimes, in line at the grocery store, when I’ve run out of tabloid covers to read, I glance at those booklets on brain training. From the look of them, they’re geared toward people who are older, maybe retired, who no longer have kids or a job to stimulate their brains.
    But I never really thought about things I could do to sharpen my memory or hone the connections between reason and emotion. I’m young. My brain is young. I think a lot. I’m even doing it right now. Maybe if I try to exercise my brain too much, I’ll pull a mental muscle or something?
    But if the alternative is my brain going to mush inside my skull, some cranial fatigue is worth the risk.
    So here’s my list of ten ways to do ol’ Brain Train:
Courtesy of Richard Trierweiler
    1. Sleep. This one’s my favorite so I put it first. I love sleep. I never feel like I’ve had enough. But just sleeping a lot is not always the solution. You have to make sure that the quality of the sleep you’re getting is top shelf. That means eliminating noise and light. I use double blackout curtains. They shut out the sun, cut down on street noise and even keep out the cold, saving money on my heating bill.
    2. Be contradicted. There’s nothing more stimulating than a healthy debate. It gives you an excuse to practice expressing your opinion and exposes you to new ideas. I’m lucky on this one. My partner never lets me get away with any statement without citing my sources.
    3. Eat tumeric. This common spice is used in pretty much every Indian, and most Thai, dishes. It’s a staple in my kitchen. Similar to ginger root, it contains curcumin, which may reduce the risk of dementia. One down side — it stains, so be tidy.
Courtesy of chocolate express on Flickr
    4. Eat dark chocolate — and drink red wine. Both are delicious sources of memory-improving flavonoids. And tell your parents to rock this one too. Studies have shown that after age 50, one serving of red wine a day will benefit the heart as well.
    5. Hydrate. I remember commercials from high school prompting eight glasses a day. It always seemed like a lot. But dehydration forces the brain to work harder and may prohibit planning abilities. Plus, you’ll be less likely to develop kidney stones. And I hear those are no fun.
Courtesy of jjpacres
    6. Write by hand. This is one that challenges me. I used to do it all the time. Essay tests in class were part of the curriculum and I never gave it much thought. Now, writing by hand for more than a couple hundred words and I’m cramping up. My new goal is to write the first draft by hand, second draft on the computer. Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. And, it’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down.
    7. Zone out. Take your brain off the leash and let it wander about. One professor I had in college gave the class permission to stop listening to her if we started to feel sleepy. The break, she said, made us more focused when we came back. And studies have shown that zoning out allows the brain to work on the ‘big picture’.
    8. Delay gratification. It encourages focus, and when exercised at the dinner table, makes that dessert take so much better. This is something I was much better at as a kid. Once I figured out the whole time-management thing, I realized that deadlines are good motivators, too.
    9. Master the Pomodoro Technique. This has nothing to do with pasta, but is a great tool for time-management. You stay focused and work in 25-minute blocks, taking a short break after each. The frequent rests aid mental agility, and you know you want to take it anyway.
Courtesy of WarzauWynn on Flickr
    10. Get out of town. City living is distracting. Just a few minutes on a crowded street impairs memory and self-control (like the urge to pull your hair out). So plan a weekend getaway. Pennsylvania is full of wonderful state and local parks, so this doesn’t mean you have to go far. This is also my favorite.

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