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Habits shape your future. Good habits can help create an amazing life, and bad habits can destroy your life. One of the recent break through discovery make by neuroscientist is that the brain has the ability to actually change, and adapt to new challenges. Scientists call this characteristic of the brain, “neuroplasticity.” The brain is not a fixed organ of the body that never changes. This is exciting because we have the ability to improve our brains. These five habits can be practiced every day, and will help set up an environment to help the brain excel.
You can go to any high school in America, ask for the GPA of the students who run cross country, and you will quickly notice one thing. The average GPA of the team will be very high. In fact many of the runners will be in the top 1% of their class. Why is this the case? You can argue that the sport requires, and teaches disciple, and hard work, but the daily aerobic exercise required from each runner is very good for the brain.
In fact Dr. Suzuki, who is a world renowned neurosurgeon, believes so much in the positive benefits of exercise, and brain health, she teaches a class at New York University that is a mixture of exercise and academic studies.
How does exercise help the brain?
Exercise causes an increased growth of the blood vessels in the brain.
The size of the hippocampus is enhanced with exercise.
People who exercise regularly have a lower incident of dementia.
Bottom line, daily exercise helps improve the health of your brain. A healthy brain is a happy brain.
Eat these foods daily to help maintain the health of your brain.
Enjoy eating berries such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.
The antioxidants found in these berries help improve your memory recall.
Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and seeds contain vitamin E, and antioxidants that help keep the brain healthy.
Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens contain folate which helps the brain get rid of waste products like homocysteine.
Another advantage of eating these foods is that will help you reduce your intake of saturated fat. There have been many studies that have found that people who eat a diet heavy in saturated fat are more forgetful, and have an increased chance of Alzheimer disease.
Here is a list of healthy brain recipes.
The brain depends on water to function properly. If you have ever been severely dehydrated you may have experienced brain fog. Even being slightly dehydrated will decrease your cognitive ability. All regions of the brain need water to function properly, so drink up each day. You would never consider completing a long run, or bike ride without drinking water before, during, and after the run or bike ride. In the same way, be sure to hydrate before, during, and after study sessions, tests, and other times in which you are learning new material.
Studies have found that meditation is very good for brain health. Daily meditation can help create positive changes to your brain such as an increase in the size of the cortical thickness in the hippocampus which governs learning and memory, and a reduction in the fear and anxiety region of the brain called the amygdala. These healthy changes to your brain can help you in school, on the job site, and in life. A recent study has shown that meditation can improve your ability to concentrate. The practice of concentration in which meditation encourages helps to train the brain to concentrate for a longer amount of time, and more effectively. Think of it like an intense workout for the brain. I have run marathons now for twenty years. In order to complete a marathon you have to train your body to run long. You accomplish this by running often, and completing long runs. The human body is amazing, and will adapt to the stress of running, and actually change to complete the task of running. The brain also has the ability to change, and the habit of meditation will force it to adapt to this deep thinking, and will make positive changes to adapt to this new stress. Another benefit of meditation is a reduction in stress. Stress is not only an enemy of your overall health, it is also an enemy of your brain. Stress can damage brain cells, and prevent the hippocampus from forming new memories. If you are like many people, and have never meditated before here is a beginner guide to meditation. If you want to just jump right, and not read anything about meditating, there is a very popular program called Headspace that has a free ten day trial program that teaches you how to meditate with a daily guided meditation.
Learn something new
When you learn something new the brain actually forms new connections between brain cells. Think of the task of learning something new as a great workout for your brain. We all understand how lifting weights can make you physically stronger, but we can also work out the brain. In one study scientists found that senior citizens who learned a new task had a significant improvement in memory. The more difficult the task the larger the improvement in memory. My father is 83 and I can hardly notice a slowdown of his cognitive ability. I think one big reason for this is that he still runs his insurance agency, and constantly has to learn new skills in a changing business environment. Even in the last ten years he has learned how to master a cell phone, send out Tweets, update his website, use email marketing instead of the yellow pages, and many more skills. His brain is constantly working out. What type of new skills should you learn? Anything you enjoy, but the more difficult the task, the greater the gains. Here is a quick list.
Learn to play guitar
Learn to draw
Learn a new language
Hopefully you get the idea. Find something that is fun, a little challenging, and you can work on a little each day. I taught myself to play piano as an adult. I had never played an instrument, and it was very difficult, but great fun, and greatly enriched my life.
Four items to keep in mind when deciding on what you are going to learn.
Is it challenging?
Is it a something new?
Is it rewarding?
Can you practice the skill easily and often?
Here are four links to help get you started.
It is very important for your brain health to regularly get 7 to 8 hour of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is associated with memory loss, cognitive decline, and an increase in Alzheimer’s. Sleep helps the brain clear out toxins, repairs itself, and create memories. My last year in college I developed the poor habit of waiting until the last moment to study. This resulted in many nights of 1 or 2 hours of sleep. I can still remember that feeling of being brain dead from the lack of sleep. It also resulted in the worse grades of my college career. Humans just can’t function optimally on lack of sleep. If you find yourself constantly getting less than 7 hours of sleep, then this is a warning flag that your life is out of balance. My problem in college was a result of a schedule that was too busy, and procrastination. Take some time to analyze your decisions, schedule, and habits, and find a way to get seven hours of sleep each night.
In summary, an optimal day for brain health may look like this. Your alarm goes off after a very restful seven and a half hours of sleep. Soon after waking you take ten minutes, and complete your daily meditation. You then go for a very enjoyable fifteen minute walk, and complete 25 push-ups when you finish. You make a quick smoothie with blue berries, strawberries, kale, and almond milk. You are now ready to start your day. On a personal note, due to some health issues, and absolute desperation, I started drinking a kale shake every morning. I attribute this simple habit for my improved health. I teach school, and therefore I’m exposed to many germs daily. I have gone from having a severe cold or sinus infection once a month, to now maybe one or two a year. Now, back to our daily routine, upon arriving home in the afternoon you get out your guitar that you are beginning to learn, and work on learning several new chords, and songs. Obviously everyone’s schedule will vary, but hopefully you see that you can easily incorporate habits that will help keep your brain healthy and sharp.
5 Daily Habits To Make Your Brain Smarter