Memory games – the little apps you get on your phone claiming that playing them every day – have had a lot of bad press over the years. It’s the app developers against big science, and big science is winning. Practically every day, some new newspaper article comes out with a headline informing us all that brain games “don’t work” and that they’re a con.
Even if they are, the good news is that it doesn’t matter. When it comes to improving brain function, memory and intelligence, there are more options available to you than a few apps.
Recent developments in science have found that there are many healthy lifestyle practices you can adopt which enhance brain function and actually make you a smarter and more engaging person at the same time. Let’s take a look
Relax And Take Time Out To Daydream
In general, day dreamers get a bad rap. The people who spend all day staring out of their office windows, wondering quietly to themselves are frequently berated by their colleagues. Co-workers often interpret daydreaming as not doing any work or getting stuff done. In a way they’re right: daydreaming doesn’t involve focusing on a particular task. However, it’s not fair to say that people who daydream are less productive. In fact, the opposite is likely true.
The reason for this is what happens in our brains when we daydream. Daydreaming stimulates all areas of the brain, especially those relating to creativity and imagination. Though from the outside, it might look as if a person who is daydreaming isn’t doing very much, on the inside, their brains are a hive of activity. Daydreaming releases trillions of neurochemicals which all intersect and react with other neurons in new ways. In the process, new connections are created and new ideas conceived. Researchers have found that students who do better on standardized tests are often those who spend more time daydreaming.
So what should you do the next time you face a challenging problem at work? Take a step back, look out the window and let your mind do the work of figuring it out for you.
Exercise More Often
The advice to get more exercise is both ubiquitous and generic. Of course, you should be getting more exercise if you want to be fit and healthy. But did you know that getting exercise can also help your brain function too?
It turns out, according to the latest research in neuroscience, that exercise increases the amount of “brain derived neurotrophic factor” in the brain – a protein molecule that promotes the growth of new neurons. When more of this protein is present, it makes it easier to form new thoughts and memories, helping you to remember what you’ve learned and give you more “cognitive reserve” helping you to avoid conditions like dementia in the future.
What’s funny is that the real world actually bears this out. Often, the most successful people are those who start their day with a bout of exercise. Although CEOs might not realize it, their morning routine could be what powered them to get to where they are.
Drink More Coffee
If you’re a coffee lover, you’re going to love this next one. Multiple studies have found that stimulants – like those contained in coffee and tea – actually have a positive effect on brain health and function. The reason for this has to do with dopamine – a neurotransmitter chemical which helps to pass messages from one part of the brain to another. Stimulants have a positive effect on the brain by inducing the release of more dopamine which helps to increase brain activity. This can result in benefits, like better long-term memory.
The effects of caffeine don’t end there. Another beneficial effect of your morning cup of Joe is a reduction in the level of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical which helps to slow neural activity in the brain so that you can go to sleep. (This is why if you overdose on caffeine, you can’t get to sleep). Reducing the amount of adenosine in your brain during the day helps with focus by allowing your neurons to fire more often. This, in turn, leads to more creativity and attention to detail.
Boost Your Sleep
Sleep is required by your brain so that it can recharge its batteries. But among insomniacs – people who sleep less than four hours a night, five nights in a row – the cells in their brains never get time to switch off. After a few weeks of poor sleep, many of these cells start to die off or become clogged with proteins, reducing their function according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania. This, in turn, can lead to long-term problems, including serious diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
There are many ways to boost your sleep, including hammock sleeping, switching off your devices before bed and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon. If you still have trouble sleeping, it might have something to do with chronic stress in your life. If work or family is getting you down, try to get to the root of the problem and solve it.
Believe That Better Brain Function Is Possible
Expectations are important. Really important. What we tell ourselves is possible has a significant impact on what actually happens in reality. So part of the way to get a better functioning brain is to believe that it can actually happen – at least according to a study cited by the New York Times.
The study involved a group of students. Half were told that it was possible to get smarter over time and the other half were told that it wasn’t. The students were then handed out course materials to see how much of them they would remember. The group who were told that it was possible to get smarter managed to remember around 85 percent of what they had learned, whereas the group who were told that they couldn’t get smarter only retained around 54 percent.
The bottom line? If you want to improve brain function, believe that you can do anything to which you set your mind.