Archive for June, 2008

How to keep your brain fit

Posted in optimal performance with tags , , on June 26, 2008 by gohelpyourself

brain

 

By Anthony O. Alcantara

There’s only one sure-fire way to keep your mind sharp: use it.

However, what specific activities would lead to maximum results is the problem. Below are some proven ways to sharpen the edges of your mind for some real sharp thinking. These are based on scientific studies on cognitive performance. Some may be familiar to you and some may make sense. But others may appear odd or counterintuitive.

Discover what works for you. Even doing a few of these can help prevent a rusty brain.

1) Improve your memory.

Of course you knew this one. But with all the modern tools available to help you remember things, why should you bother?

Well, trying to improve your memory will give your brain a good workout and prepare you for greater mental challenges ahead. Simple exercises such as memorizing a string of random numbers or words can do the trick.

However, if you want it to be more relevant, you can try memorizing your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, and other information that you use regularly. You can even try memorizing passages or quotes of your favorite authors. Or memorize the menu of your favorite restaurant.

2) Stimulate your five senses.

Sight—Observe objects, pictures or persons you meet. Try to draw them immediately afterwards with as much detail as you can remember and as accurately as possible. That will improve short-term memory. Try drawing them again after a week. That will exercise your long-term memory.

Hearing—When using the telephone, try to recognize callers before they identify themselves. Memorize their phone numbers and at the end of the day write down the people who called you and their phone numbers. At the end of the week, write down as many as you can remember.

Taste/Smell—Try to identify the ingredients in a dish and ask the chef if you’re correct. Sniff perfumes in department stores and try to memorize their scents.

Touch—With your eyes closed, try to identify objects in your office or house.

3) Exercise your spatial awareness.

Try to estimate the height and weight of people you meet. Just remember to add an inch or two when estimating men’s heights and reduce a few pounds when estimating women’s weights.

Try estimating the sizes of objects and distances, too.

4) Flex your logical faculties.

Come up with a list of things to do in the office. However, don’t list them down. Try to memorize them in some way by making up a word representing their first letters, making a story, or classifying them. You can try that on your grocery list, too.

Play games and do puzzles. They exercise your logical activities. Games like Chess, Go, Othello, Bridge, Poker, etc. are excellent. Puzzles such as crosswords, anagrams, cryptograms and others isolate the logical “muscles” of the brain.

Read mystery novels. Occasionally read the last chapter first and then go through the whole book, trying to determine the logic that leads to the ending. When you read other mystery novels from start to finish, you’ll then realize that your feel for logic has improved.

5) Develop your language abilities.

Learn a new word each day. Look up the meaning of one new word that you encounter before the day ends. Re-learn the meanings of difficult words or even familiar words. Sometimes you’d be surprised that a word isn’t exactly what you thought it was.

Form anagrams of words and letters in a sentence, or try forming new sentences from the words of another sentence. Summarize a chapter of book or a magazine article you just read, orally or in writing, as if doing it for someone who has not read it.

6) Play a musical instrument.

Anyone can play music if he puts his heart into it. It’s not that difficult. Patience is the key. If you already play a musical instrument, try learning new music. It will do wonders for your creativity.

7) Do aerobic exercises.

The brain is a physical human body part. So exercising your body should have an effect on the brain. Studies have shown that doing aerobic exercises increases blood flow to the brain and enhance mental performance.

More blood flow means more nutrients and more oxygen for a more alert and well-functioning brain.

8 ) Write down your ideas.

When you record your ideas in a notebook, you encourage your brain to come up with more ideas. And you encourage yourself to be more creative as you refine your thinking.

Famous scientists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson always had a notebook with them so they can record any ideas or interesting things they encounter.

Their best ideas came from those notebooks. If you want to exercise your brain and come up with great ideas, get a notebook and a pen and start writing.

9) Practice elementary math.

Yes, I know this sounds silly. Why would you want to practice problems like 1 plus 1 or 5 times 3? But Dr. Ryuta Kawashima of Japan has years of research to back up the claim that doing simple math problems can do wonders for the brain.

It’s really simple. Just practice adding, subtracting and multiplying single-digit numbers as fast as you can for a few minutes each day. Dr. Kawashima found out that more parts of the brain are activated by doing this activity, even greater than when doing complex calculations. And this activity has offset the effects of Alzheimer’s and age-related mental decline.

10) Practice reading aloud as fast as possible.

This is also based on Dr. Kawashima’s research. Reading aloud very quickly but pronouncing the words distinctly and accurately also activates a large part of the brain.

Reading slowly doesn’t have the same effect. Practice a few minutes each day just reading aloud fast and see your verbal abilities improve with practice and at the same time the speed by which your brain functions.

11) Make it your everyday routine.

Adding these simple exercises and activities in your daily routine is not difficult. Each activity will take between 2 to 10 minutes only, and they can be done almost anywhere.

You can even schedule certain activities for one day and schedule another set of activities the next. Or you can come up with your own similar exercises. It’s up to you.

According to an article written by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula and Edward T. Cokely in Harvard Business Review entitled “The Making of an Expert,” deliberate practice and deliberate thinking are the keys to becoming an expert in any field.

Philip E. Ross, in his article “The Expert Mind” in Scientific American, has echoed similar conclusions.

“Effortful study is the key to achieving success in chess, classical music, soccer and many other fields. New research has indicated that motivation is a more important factor than innate ability,” wrote Ross.

It appears that deliberate and effortful practice makes the most sense. With these simple exercises, we can indeed keep our brains fit for a long time.

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