Stay Sharp: 3 Easy Tips to Build a Better Brain

Image of Healthy Brain FunctionImproving cognitive function can seem, at best, to be an ambiguous process. At worst, the endeavor can seem a sisyphean task. However, wellbeing (both physical and mental) should be at the forefront of your mind. The old adage claims that, “time is no man’s friend,” but it certainly need not be your enemy. Being mindful about the way in which you maintain your health, especially as your grow, can completely transform your quality of life, as well as empower you to embrace its milestones. Developing the proper set of habits seems to indicate not just obvious mental and emotional benefits, but also potentially improves your cognitive function. Although the scientific community may still be debating the finer points of some of these habits, adopting a holistic mentality to your mental wellness can ensure that you surely stand to benefit from them in one way or another.

Physical Activity

An ever-increasing portfolio of research indicates that physical activity improves brain health and cognition. A team from the Boston University School of Medicine concluded that hormones released during regular exercise positively impacted blood hormone levels which in turn have positive impact on memory function. A different study in 2013, the combined effort of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber, show that the molecule irisin, which is released during endurance exercise, not only improves cognitive function but protects against mental degeneration. Higher level of irisin is also known to impact learning and memory function.

Researchers have even noted the connection in children. A study from Finland indicated that first grade students with higher cardiovascular fitness and motor skills also performed better in reading and arithmetic assessments. In short, better fitness often equates to higher cognitive function.

Learn New Things

It may seem to be little more than a vapid, comical interjection in the majority of the conversation in which you find it, but, when it comes to cognitive function, studies indeed indicate that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Challenging yourself to learn new and demanding skills has been found to be beneficial to people looking to preserve or improve their brain health. However, activities with which you are already expertly acquainted, regardless of their complexity, simply will not cut it. Research show that if you are inside of your comfort zone, you are very likely outside of your enhancement or growth zone.

Similarly, curiosity and creativity can be key in stimulating not just cognitive function, but also success. A study out of Michigan State University discovered that children who participated in arts and crafts outperformed their peers in innovation, patents, and entrepreneurship in adulthood. Brain-stimulating activities like reading books or musical training also offer great benefits. Studying music, especially as a child, increases plasticity in the brain and  improves the connectivity of different brain regions, positively altering the ability of the mind to interpret and integrate a variety of sensory data. Reading and writing at any age has been shown to preserve memory. Even reading fiction can be a big help!

Put Your Brain First

Although Western culture has not traditionally extolled the virtues of mindfulness meditation, studies do show that regularly practicing such a skill does measurably change the brain and reduce stress, which in term may slow the onset or progression of cognitive disorders. The same ability to reduce chronic stress and decrease cortisol levels has been seen in yoga.

Chronic stress and the associated high levels of cortisol can be very detrimental to the the health of your brain. Stress triggers long-term changes in the wiring of your mind, which may well explain why individuals exposed to consistent and extremely high levels of stress as children are so prone to mental problems like mood disorders or learning disorders later in their lives. Cortisol, which is sometimes colloquially called “the stress hormone” can cement the connections between the hippocampus and amygdala so that your mind becomes overly eager to enter the fight-or-flight mentality. That inflexible and unwavering connection can in turn cause an excess of myelin or “white matter” in the brain, more than your mind can trim through its regular neural pruning in order to remain as efficient and functional as possible.

The key to building these great habits is consistency. Remaining committed to building a great routine may be challenging, but remember the excellent benefits the right lifestyle can have on your cognitive function, even later in life. Find the ways to incorporate these tips that best suits you, and stick with it. Your brain will thank you.