Even if you think you’re pretty smart or have a good memory, your brain is begging you to work it to its full potential. Getting stuck in the same routine, never exercising and eating junk food are all brain killers that decrease good cognitive function and increase your chances of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s. But with these 50 tips and ideas for flexing your brain power, you’ll be able to boost performance right now and in the future.
Make a point to exercise, sleep on a regular schedule and socialize with friends and family each day for the sake of your brain.
- Sleep right: Healthy sleeping habits, like getting enough sleep and sticking to a regular sleeping schedule, can promote brain health by improving your ability to focus and remember things. Get at least eight hours of sleep to ensure that you reach your REM cycle.
- Exercise: Exercise boosts your mood by releasing endorphins, but it also stimulates oxygen intake and "increases levels of brain chemicals that encourage the growth of nerve cells" that help memory, according to the AARP.
- Socialize with friends and family: Studies have shown that remaining socially active is very important in reducing your chances of dementia.
- Do the daily crossword puzzle: Exercise your brain and maintain cognitive function by doing puzzles and brain teasers everyday.
- Read: Read the newspaper, a magazine, books, and online material to keep your brain sharp and to challenge yourself to learn new words and information.
- Keep stress in check: Stress affects memory and can also cause tension headaches, so remember to relax and unwind.
- Do something new everyday: Whether it’s learning a phrase a day in a foreign language or reading a different kind of article in the newspaper, challenge your brain to explore a new topic.
- Subscribe to online puzzles: Make it easy to do a puzzle or brain teaser a day by subscribing to an RSS feed.
- Switch up your routine: Even small changes in your daily routine will help you stay sharp and introduce you to new elements and variables while you shop, garden, take a walk, or call a friend.
- Eat right: A brain-healthy diet includes low-cholesterol and low-fat foods.
A healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and even a little caffeine are what your brain needs for optimum performance.
- Salmon: Cold-water, deep-water fish like salmon and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and "which are essential for brain function," according to Dr. Ann Kulze and WebMD.
- Baked and grilled items: The Alzheimer’s Association suggests baking and grilling food instead of frying it to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol intake, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s.
- Kale and spinach: Darker skinned vegetables like kale and spinach have the highest levels of natural antioxidants.
- Flax seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds: These seeds have high levels of Vitamin E, which reduces risk of cognitive decline as you age.
- Nuts: Walnuts, cashews, peanuts and almonds are excellent brain food because of their high concentration of vitamin E.
- Canola oil and walnut oil: Cooking with canola oil and walnut oil is an easy way to balance your omega-3s and omega-6s, according to Psychology Today.
- Beans: Eat beans to stabilize your blood sugar.
- Coffee: According to a study reported by the BBC, "coffee may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body," due to its caffeine content.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are a popular brain food because they reduce inflammation in the central nervous system and are an excellent source of antioxidants.
- Whole grains: Whole grain bread, rice and oatmeal lower your risk of heart disease, which maintains healthy blood flow to the brain. WebMD reports that whole grains also contain vitamin E, fiber and omega-3s.
- Avocado: Avocados are rich in monosaturated fat, which promote blood flow. They’re also an incredible source of dietary fiber, vitamins B6, C and E, potassium, magnesium and folate.
- Green tea: Green tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which help prevent cancer and "may help maintain positive mood states and protect against Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders," reports Psychology Today.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and caffeine, which protect the brain and improve your mood.
- Eggs: Eggs in moderation can increase your intake of omega-3s and choline, which improves memory.
- Strawberries: Add strawberries to ice cream, yogurt or fiber-rich cereal for a bigger brain boost. They are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
- A moderate amount of carbs: Whole foods with carbohydrates give us needed energy, but overdoing carb-laden foods can make you sleepy and sluggish.
Activities and Games
Keep your brain guessing by switching up your activities and trying new games that will form new connectors.
- Change the way you tie your shoelaces: Try reversing the hands you use to tie your shoelaces to challenge your brain.
- Change up your regular route: Switch up the drive to work or your regular evening walk to test your brain.
- Travel: Traveling is supposed to keep your brain in top shape. Neanderthals are believed to have sharp brains because of their nomadic lifestyle, according to The Franklin Institute.
- Take a dance class: Challenge your brain to learn new steps and follow along with the music while getting needed exercise.
- Yoga: Yoga may help prevent or ease depression and anxiety.
- Games for the Brain: Play Sudoku and brain puzzles, trivia games and strategy games to flex your brain muscles.
- Concentration and memory games: This group of brain games tests your concentration, memory and matching skills.
- Read a mystery novel: Pick up a challenging mystery novel that encourages you to solve the puzzle as you read along.
- Babysit: Babysit your grandkids or your neighbors. You’ll be challenged to keep up with their fast pace and games that are probably new to you.
- Concentration practice: Did you know that you can practice your concentration skills to improve brain function? Brain exercise through crossword puzzles and Sudoku can help.
- Opencourseware: Take a free not-for-credit class online to learn something new, test out your technology skills and challenge your brain.
Things to Avoid
Smoking, junk food, and too much TV are all harmful to brain performance.
- Smoking: The Alzheimer’s Association maintains that "smoking interferes with blood flow and oxygen to the brain and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke."
- Getting overweight: Being overweight increases your chances of having a stroke, so exercise and eat a low-cholesterol, heart-healthy diet.
- Junk food: Junk food is bad for your heart, your weight and your cholesterol, and it’s also bad for your brain. Foods that are high in trans fats "adversely affect cognition," according to LiveScience.com.
- Too much TV: Too much TV doesn’t challenge your brain enough, keeps you from moving around and exercising, and can cause headaches.
- Routine: Your brain can get in a rut just like your mood can, so play around with your routine to keep your brain guessing.
- Too much alcohol: Besides impairing judgment and brain performance during drinking, consistently drinking too much alcohol may speed up the shrinkage of brain volume, leading to dementia and other disorders.
- Starving yourself: Maintain your focus and avoid headaches, stress and irritation by refueling every few hours on healthy snacks, like nuts and fruit.
From managing your anger and stress levels to meditating, these simple tips will improve focus and keep your brain sharp for years to come.
- Getting to the country: Moving to the country, or at least vacationing there once in a while, gives your brain a break from the chaos of urban life, which according to a study reported by Boston.com, "impairs our basic mental processes" and "dull[s] our thinking, sometimes dramatically so."
- Anger management: By learning how to deal with problems, the AARP reports, your brain "forms new neural connections" and avoids stress.
- Stimulate your senses: Try focusing on only one or two senses, like touch or sound to challenge your brain to make sense of what you feel or hear without help from your other senses.
- Get a check up: Make sure your brain is in good shape and not at risk for any tumors or other conditions by scheduling regular doctor’s visits.
- Notice more: Instead of focusing on what you’re doing only, open your eyes and notice your surroundings. The more you take in, the more your brain has to process.
- Meditate: Clear your mind with meditation, which also reduces stress and helps you refocus on what’s important.