I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to improve their brain health – and preferably the easiest ways possible.
But how do you even begin to go about doing that?
Whatever the answer, it’s probably complicated, takes a lot of time or costs money. Right? Who has time to add another complex routine to their life?
Surprisingly, you don’t have to drastically change your life or dedicate too much time or effort to improve your brain health.
Your brain’s health is a product of your daily habits. To optimize your brain, all you have to do is make slight adjustments to your routine. Below are eight ways to easily do that.
Get More Sleep
Sleep is one of the most powerful influencers of overall health — including brain health. In fact, skimping on sleep can make you sick, fat, and stupid. After just one night of reduced sleep, reaction times, glucose levels, mood, memory, and hormone balances can be affected. One study saw changes in men’s brains after not sleeping for just one night indicative of brain shrinkage and damage similar to a brain injury. Extreme lack of sleep can even be deadly.
Getting sufficient sleep helps focus and improves memory and productivity. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, although the exact amount varies from person to person. If you didn’t manage to get your requisite slumber one night, make time for a nap the next day to give your brain a boost. Studies show that napping for 90 minutes improves memory, while other research says that even napping for a just ten minutes has brain benefits.
Manage Your To-Dos
We often worry about our seemingly never-ending lists of things that have to get done. Science has found that making to-do lists can not only help you check things off the list but can also improve your mental health. One theory is that most of our stress comes not from having too much to do, but from trying to keep track of it all. Which explains why, when you sit down, grab a pen and make a list, you experience immediate relief – even though the tasks are still as unfinished as before.
Just make sure to not let the to-do list add to your stress. Some tips for doing that are:
- Keep the list short – just 3 things for a day. Put any overflow on another list for later.
- Prioritize the list putting the most crucial item coming first.
- Tackle the first item on your list first.
As you complete a task on the list, make sure to check it off. Recognizing an accomplishment – no matter how small – gives your brain a shot of dopamine which boosts motivation and mood. Lists are great efficiency hacks that can help keep the whole family on the same page.
Exercise (even a little bit helps)
Exercise has been proven to have tremendous brain benefits. Research shows that physical exercise improves memory and thinking skills, mood and creativity, and learning while reducing depression, age-related decline, and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. One study found that exercising at a moderate intensity for just two hours per week increased volume in the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking.
Exercising also leads to better sleep which greatly helps your brain as mentioned above. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
Before you start your day, tidy up your space – whether you’re at work or home. If you get in the habit of doing this every day, there will rarely be a big mess to clean up and the ongoing results will be well worth it.
Research shows that mess can lead to stress and depression. Clutter distracts you and competes for your attention, making you less focused and productive. Although, studies show that it may help you be more creative.
Once you’ve cleaned up your workstation, feel free to move on to cleaning up other areas of life such as your home and car. Organize the nonphysical things too, such as your schedule and to-dos. You could try decluttering your mind by journaling, thought reframing, mindfulness or meditation.
The brain benefits of meditation have been overwhelmingly validated by science. The positive neurological and psychological effects of meditation are numerous., including beneficial activity and volume changes in the brain, improved focus, better mood, and reduced stress levels. Studies show it can even slow aging in the brain and be a useful tool for treating anxiety and depression.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University found mindfully meditating for 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days is all it takes to reduce stress levels. Harvard research showed beneficial physical brain changes after just eight weeks of meditation.
You don’t have to be a guru or dedicate hours each day to meditate. Perhaps the most popular form of meditation, mindfulness meditation, is a great place to start. All you have to do is focus on the breath. You can begin to practice with just a few minutes each morning or take one-minute meditation breaks throughout your day.
Feed Your Brain
Another easy way to rapidly improve your brain health is by supporting it with a brain-healthy diet. Feeding your brain optimally will not only help your overall health but also improve brain health and cognitive function. You have a “second brain,” the enteric nervous system, in your gut which communicates with the brain in your head. What you put in your mouth directly affects what goes on in your brain. One study found that the bacteria in peoples’ guts shifted within three to four days of a major diet change.
To get brain benefits, you just need to make small changes to something you already do every day — eat. To get the most brainpower out of your diet, you will want to include fatty fishes, foods with probiotics, whole grains, leafy greens and lots of lean protein.
Use All of Your Senses
You use your senses every day, but you probably don’t really pay that much attention to them. Occasionally switching up the way you use your senses can help you sharpen them, give you a change in perspective, and give your brain a workout.
To do this, just go about your day as usual with a few slight changes. Pay special attention to what your senses are telling you. Be mindful and aware. Really taste the boldness of your coffee. Take the time to really feel the sensation of each water droplet hitting your head in the shower. While walking the dog, notice the songs of the different birds and feel the ground underfoot. This practice is called sensualizing.
If you want to make things more interesting, try not using a sense you typically use so you can focus more on another one. For instance, close your eyes while you’re eating to help you focus on the senses of smell and taste.
Break Out of Your Routine
This one might seem a little counterintuitive, but if you want to use your daily routine to boost your brain, change it. When we do the same thing every day, we tend to go into autopilot mode. We don’t really think about what we’re doing, so we’re not engaging our brains.
When you switch things up, you’re asking your brain to think and pay attention and forcing it to stay alert. It’s important to kick your brain out of its comfort zone by doing things that are unfamiliar and mentally challenging. You’ll want to push your brain beyond the norm. Stepping out of your routine forces your brain to make new neural connections.
It could be something simple like driving a different way to work or eating your cereal with your left hand. Something more involved, like learning a new language or mastering a musical instrument, will certainly work wonders for your brain as well but will take more time and effort.
If you want to improve your brain, all you have to do is tweak your daily routine. Keep your brain and body active, feed it what it needs and take good care of your mental health, and little by little, you’ll see improvements.
Give it a try today — your brain will thank you.
Kayla Matthews writes about wellness, productivity and stress in the modern world for websites like MakeUseOf, BioMed Central, and The Huffington Post. To read more posts from Kayla, subscribe to her blog, Productivity Theory.