Our brains are sometimes seen as complex machines that run on all cylinders. Often our brains are working harder every waking and resting moment. Without knowing it, our brains can be trying to tell us that it needs some support. Sometimes we can see it in our own eyes as brain fog, loss of recent memory, entering a room to then forget why you entered, or even feeling anxious regularly. There is no one fix,, but there are preventative ways to best improve your mind that you can practice today. Here are a few:
1. Take a Walk Around the Block...or Two
Walking is one of the most basic movements that us humans do. The one thing I like about it the most is that it's simple. If you have ground, you have a place to walk. Everyday I try to walk at least three miles. It is almost a ritual that I do, but more importantly I do it for my brain. Walking is one of my favorite types of exercise because it always improves my mood, gets me outdoors, and I can always do it with others. Recent research indicates that even a short 15 to 20 minute walk can increase cerebral blood flow, creativity, new idea generation, and overall executive function. Walks also give short breaks from our everyday routines, whether it be at work, after a social gathering, in need of a mental break, or breaking up a relaxing weekend. Even a few minutes around the block can do more for your body than you know.
Ever think of your posture when you sit down? Well this is one step you don’t want to miss out on. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ became aware to us just a few years ago, and so we started to try not to sit. Unfortunately at the end of the day there’s really nothing better than kicking your feet back for a few minutes. Since sitting isn’t going to just go away overnight, there are steps to try to improve our posture and prevent the popular ‘lower back pain’. Sitting up straight, with your shoulders back and neck long, can instantly increase blood flow to the brain. Studies also show sitting up straight can improve how others see you and actually lead to increased self confidence. Another finding shows that bad posture (curved ‘c’ shaped back) has negative effects directly to your breath which in turn lowers the amount of oxygen to your brain. Good posture can reverse that and give around thirty percent more oxygen to your brain and body.
3.Eat a Bowl Full of Blueberries
Blueberries are the king of the antioxidants when it comes to me. With many benefits with a sweet taste, what could go wrong? Absolutely more goodness! Ripe blueberries are also loaded with flavonoid, polyphenols, and other compounds that stimulate neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells). Now your brain will be addicted to these and you get to munch on some delicious fruit that bursts into your mouth. So when you are at the store I recommend going for the frozen section not only for the price, but they last much longer than fresh. If that doesn’t sound good, just throw them into your favorite smoothie!
4.Smell for a Better Mind
Ever have an old smell return to you such as a family baked good, maybe someones funny smelling house, or even the smell of popcorn popping? Any of these types of smells can actually have direct effects on our memory part of the brain, the hippocampus. Certain smells can actually lead to decreasing stress, calmer sympathetic nervous system and improvement of our cognitive mind and overall mood. Without baking anything or going to your friends smelly house, you can use essential oils to get all of these much needed benefits. There are a wide range of oils so I would suggest getting creative. Lavender is used to lower stress, but bergamot is used for increased energy. This is your time to become a wizard even and mix the two and come up with your own concoctions.
5.Brush with your Other Hand
I used to always try this once in a while when I was a kid. I was never good at it, but I would try to improve my performance every time I tried. Brushing normally puts our mind in a robot routine, whereas if simply by switching to your non-dominant hand your brain has to think differently and create new neuron connections to make it possible. Using your non-dominant hand in any fashion, from writing to using a toothbrush, can challenge your mind to strengthen and allow neurogenesis.
So when you are getting ready for bed try switching hands and you might actually get better with time!
6.Learn a New Word
Our vocabulary is going to get a significant boost on this one. If you read there are often times we stumble on a new word we do not know, where we might examine it and think of its meaning, but by the next day we forgot it. This process of learning a new word expands your brain’s hippocampus, which is the section of the brain meant for learning and memory, After education, adults tend to stick to that vocabulary for the rest of their life, but you could change this!
To expand your vocabulary simply by either downloading any dictionary app with a ‘Word of the Day’ link. You’ll be on your path to improve your brain and impress your friends with your vocabulary soon enough.
7.Imagine Events in Your Day
Visualization is basically a strategy to imagine something before it happens. The point of it is to reenact the image that you came up with for the best chances of completing it exactly how you wanted it to go. For example if you had a big speech coming up you would visualize yourself talking smoothly, having a calm pace and finishing with style. After this process you are now even more prepared for that speech in addition to putting that image in your mind for you to look back on seconds before you go on stage. I recommend practicing early on in the day about a specific task or even that you have coming up which in turn exercises the mind to calm down, improving mood, lowers stress and improves performance at work.
8.Gratitude List: Just One
Gratitude journals have become an obsession over the past few years to help our minds during stressful times, but one doesn’t always need a journal to write in every single day. Simply stopping to acknowledge one thing that you are grateful for each day can have numerous benefits to your mind and body. Research has shown us that practicing this routine can help relax your mind, lower stress and improve your thinking of positive thoughts.
9.Quite Time Break
From our alarm clock to late night binge watching, our lives are filled with distractions. It is time we have accepted it. The next thing we have to accept is that our brains need a rest too. Now I know you might be thinking that when we sleep our minds rest, but they are still on for all of those hours we sleep. The strategy is not to turn our brains off, but to focus on one single point for a small amount of time. Find a space with no distractions (phone, tv, etc) and be still for at least ten minutes. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Focus simply on your breath. Even if thoughts do arise (which they will) be aware of them coming, but steer them away like driving past a sign on the road to keep thinking about your in and out breaths. This boots your parasympathetic nervous system and also allows higher levels of emotional intelligence for the rest of the day.
10. Eat a Square of Dark Chocolate
Coincidentally I did save the best for last. For all of the dark chocolate fans out there this is for you. Even if dark chocolate is not your thing I do suggest trying a lower percentage of pure dark chocolate to begin with (around fifty). Studies have shown that eating just a small square before an even improves reaction time and memory. So before you go back to work after a lunch break, reading a book, or even exercise, dark chocolate can help!