Your brain is the most valuable thing you own and you should ensure it stays powerful and resilient
The fatty organ in your head weighing three pounds is the most complicated device discover in the universe.
It has 100 billion neurons that require only 20 watts of power to run. By comparison, a man-made supercomputer uses 1 million watts to run 1 million neurons.
Despite weighing only two percent of total bodyweight it consumes 20 percent of the energy. The average brain has around 50,000 thoughts a day and 70 percent are believed to be negative.
Most important it has ‘plasticity’ meaning intelligence is not fixed or tied to genetics. With the correct approach you can become smarter regardless of your age.
Read on if you want optimize your brain so it remains healthy and staves of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
First we need a broad overview of neuroplasticity.
Neurons that fire together wire together
An important recent discovery in neuroscience is that the adult brain is not fixed. Brain health can improve as we age and brain diseases can be averted or, at the very least, postponed.
Scientists have discovered that cells die but can be replaced.
This is called neuroplasticity and is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It means the brain can grow and form new connections even as you move into your later years.
You have the power to change your brain physically, functionally and chemically.
There are two important elements to neuroplasticity which are:
1. Synaptic Plasticity
This refers to the synaptic strength and changes in synaptic connections. Synapses are structures that allow neurons to connect to one another.
This refers to the creation of new neurons in the brain. Neurogenesis occurs mostly in a developing (child’s) brain but also in adult brains.
When neurons fire and wire together they begin to form networks called neural networks.
These neural networks are gangs of neurons that have wired together to form a ‘community’. This could be relating to an idea, concept, memory, skill, behavior or an action.
The video below shows how new neural pathways are created when neurons connect to one another. It’s pretty amazing to see.
If knowing that your brain can be improved into old age is not an incentive enough then I’m not sure is. For those people don’t bother reading on.
For the rest of us, this is how to ensure your brain stays optimized into later life.
1. Meditate often to increase the gray matter
Regular meditation provides a raft of physical, psychological and cognitive benefits.
Continuous meditation helps preserve an aging brain according to a study by UCLA which found that long-term meditators had more preserved brains (grey matter) than non-meditators. Over the course of their lives people in both groups showed cognitive decline but it was the long-term meditators who showed considerably less decline.
Likewise a 2010 study showed that mindfulness meditation can increase gray matter density. In the study 18 non-meditators between the ages 25 – 55 years old showed significant increases of gray matter after an eight week meditation course.
If you want to improve your concentration then meditation has also been shown to reduce mind-wandering too. A study from the University of California found that two weeks of mindfulness training helped people focus and concentrate better.
2. You are what you eat (and drink)
If you think that nutrition is only for the part of the body that falls below the neck think again.
Studies have shown that eating a Mediterranean diet (or something similar) that includes fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts can help with preventing the onset of depression.
Omega 3 fatty acids are considered to boost brain power but so far results have been inconclusive. They may help children’s brains more than adults’.
Studies do show that Omega 3s are good for the heart so you should consume them while the jury’s still out on the brain benefit.
Blueberries are well-known to be high in antioxidants and provide protective effects on the brain. One study found that blueberries improved memory in older adults.
Eating foods rich in vitamin B12 such as red meat, liver, fish, shellfish, eggs and cheese help ensure the brain performs as it should.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can create a range of problems including fatigue, depression and poor memory, particularly in the elderly.
Staying hydrated can help too since the brain is 73 percent water. Just two percent dehydration impairs performance in tasks that need attention and immediate memory skills.
How much water should you drink?
There is no conclusive evidence to support a specific amount. The general consensus says aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day (and more if you’re exercising).
Some health supplements can help with brain function and cognitive enhancement. These include:
- Turmeric – According to Authority Nutrition, turmeric could be most effective nutritional substance in existence. Turmeric (or more importantly, curcurmin a compound that is in it) has a number of brain health benefits.
- Boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor
- Improves brain function
- Lowers risk of brain diseases
- It may be useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease
- Helps fight depression.
- Vitamin B12 – If you’re eating a diet rich in animal meat then you may not need this. It’s likely vegetarians and vegans will have to supplement with it.
3. Challenge yourself to learn new knowledge and skills
Learning new and novel skills can enhance memory function according to a study by the University of Texas. It assigned 200 older people to various activities to see if any changes in the brain had occurred after 15 hours a week for three months.
The results showed the group who engaged in “cognitively demanding and novel activities” had improved memory function. More so than the control group which were assigned fun but not mentally-challenging activities.
The group with the improved memory function did so even a year after the study had finished.
You should be curious or passionate about learning a new skills and acquiring new knowledge. Dr. Merzenich, one of the world’s leading researchers on neuroplasticity, says the brain only changes when what you’re learning new skills that are important to you.
In other words, have an interest in the new skills you’re learning. If you lack the motivation to learn little to no brain change occurs.
Routine activities don’t keep the brain challenged so it’s important to continually learn new things.
InThe Sharpbrains Guide To Brain Fitness, it says keeping up the challenge requires going to the next level of difficulty or trying something new. For example, video games like Tetris are good for the brain until you have mastered it.
One of the best skills to learn to keep the brain healthy is learning a new language. Better yet learn many languages as the video below explains.
Whatever new skills you learn it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is bad for memory and can induce ‘cognitive overload’ on the brain as it becomes overwhelmed and can’t take in any new information.
4. Run your way to brain fitness
As well as helping the body to stay healthy, there are brain benefits to getting the heart pumping also.
In general, those that exercise regularly over a given time have greater hippocampal volume and better memory function. Physical exercise benefits brain power in both young people and older people too.
Anyone who has experienced ‘runner’s high’ will understand the euphoric feeling of endorphins running through their blood stream. These endorphins can elevate your mood and improve your concentration throughout the day.
What’s the best reported cardio exercise for an endorphin rush? Running.
5. Smart drugs
Smart drugs are being used by students and white collar professionals to finish course papers or work longer and harder at the office.
The long-term effects of smart drugs are unknown and there are cases of abuse. It’s a gray area and because of this I’m only including the smart drug that has been deemed safe according to a new systematic review by Harvard and Oxford universities.
That is Modafinil.
Modafinil (also known as Provogil) helps narcoleptics though users have found it has other benefits. It improves attention, enhances learning and boosts fluid intelligence, the problem solving and creative kind of intelligence.
The review looked at research studies on Modafinil and cognitive function from 1990 to 2014 and concluded that it “consistently engenders enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning.”
The legality of Modafinil varies from country to country. In the U.K, people can legally buy it online so always understand any risks – both physically and legally – when considering using it.
I have taken it around five times and it doesn’t work great on me. Even in small doses I get the jitters.
Also, I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet either so everything I say is informational only.
6. Fix your mindset
Last but in the list but the most important. If your mindset isn’t right then none of the other tactics in this post are worth doing. Your mindset is key to ensuring your brain (and life in general) stays healthy regardless of what happens to you.
Know that whatever happens you’ll be OK allows you to relax during stressful times. Stress is a major cause of a lot of illnesses, especially the psychological ones.
Fix your mindset and your body won’t feel any bouts of stress, anxiety and depression.
Including brain fitness into your lifestyle
All of the above show that the correct lifestyle choices and habits can have a direct positive impact on your brain.
We’re all busy but you’ve got to form the habits and integrate them into your day. Preferably first thing in the morning.
If you want to improve and maintain brain power plus boost resilience then you’ve got to do the exercises and put the habits in place.
The top eight daily habits to put in place to ensure your brain stays healthy
Based on the information above, you should:
- Meditate at least 20 minutes per day
- Do 30 minutes of low to moderate cardiovascular exercise every day or, at least, every other day. Preferably running for the greater feel-good endorphin rush
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. Place a special emphasis on including blueberries for their brain antioxidant powers
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water
- Supplement with turmeric (and specifically 500mg of Curcurmin) and Vitamin B12 daily
- Continue to learn new skills and challenge yourself. Pick a topic that interests you (preferably a new language, dancing or musical instrument) and pursue it
- Use a smart drug like Modafinil when you need to focus on a particular piece of work
- Do lots of introspection and work on yourself to get your mindset right
There you have it. Go ahead and conquer.