The brain contains everything that makes us who we are. This comprises not only every talent and skill, but also the records of all our experiences, hopes and dreams, the friendships and achievements that give meaning and purpose to our lives. Whether we want a higher IQ, some kind of acclaim in our career, fame and fortune, better investment insights, we need to make it possible for the neurons in our brain to connect more frequently and effectively with neighboring neurons, and for signals or communications between neurons to be passed and read clearly.
Strategies to increase brain power are the strategies that make it possible for the brain to do more of what it already does. It’s no wonder then, that with every little ‘brain hiccup’ – forgetting a name, losing our car or house keys (again), a sudden losing streak in our Bridge or Mahjong game – we see our lives slipping away. In fact, many people fear losing their memories more than death itself.
If you look around you these days, there is a great deal of information being tossed around about two capacities of the human brain which were unknown not too many years ago, neurogenesis, or your brains ability to generate new neurons daily, and neuroplasticity, your brains ability to rewire itself based on what you are paying attention to. Neuroplasticity can happen in moments, as the brain is incredibly adaptable.
The good news is that although the brain does shrink with age, its remaining capacity is very large. Even with age, most brains can still learn and add new stores of information. Moreover, there are techniques that show you how to increase brain power and maximize your mental abilities. You can train your brain and improve the efficiency of your memory, whatever your age.
Most of what I can do to increase brain power involves life style choices in several areas, physical exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, including using computerized brain fitness programs. As I maximize my efforts in these areas, my brain then responds quicker with greater clarity of thought and insight. Not omniscience or omnipotence though.
As we age, our mental filing cabinets become packed with records of our lives well lived. Yet through it all, the brain makes more complex associations between ideas and puts new learning in the context of a vast store of experience. This means that it becomes easier to take in new information about topics of which we have some knowledge and experience. So someone who plays chess as a hobby for instance, will build on his knowledge of different chess positions and strategies the more he plays. He can draw on this knowledge and experience when he encounter something similar next time, and become a better player.
All the research that I read says the most important strategy to increase brain power is physical exercise, which might bring to mind having to hoist heavy barbells off the ground, at the local gym, in the company of muscular men and women who will look askance at my puny efforts.
Keeping our brains in tip-top shape may even protect against the decline in mental functioning that tends to occur with age. Many studies have shown that higher levels of leisure related mental, physical and social activities are associated with better cognitive health later in life. Of course, it could be that people who choose a more varied and challenging lifestyle are more mentally active to begin with. But taking up or increasing your level of activity does seem to confer benefits. A 2008 review commissioned by the UK government’s foresight project, ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing’, noted that cognitive training in later life could improve memory, reasoning and speed of information processing, and that the gains could be long-lasting, for at least 5 years. A multitude of other studies have reached similar conclusions
In regards to increasing your brain capaicty, Evans and Burghardt say do more of what you already do to begin, walk a bit more, for example, and work up to an exercise regime if you want to. Increased blood flow appears to be what your brain requires to increase neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. In fact, you can engage in exercise at home, in your basement, which can be just excellent for your brains fitness.
Your brain weighs in a 2% of your body weight but uses 20% of your bodies fuel, and it requires a flow of high octane fuel, as it cannot store its own. That fuel requirement must be filled with what your brain needs, and you will not find that in processed foods. To increase brain power through nutrition means to increase antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, glyconutrients, fiber, etc. by eating fruits and vegetables that are vine ripened and locally grown, each and every day.
Here are other simple everyday ways to increase brain power.
Talking – A study found that chatting for 10 minutes a day improves memory and test scores.
Walking – In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looking at data from the US Nurses Study, involving more than 18,000 women, found that long term regular physical activity, including walking, is associated with significantly better cognitive function and less cognitive decline in older women.
Omega-3 dietary supplement – A study looked at use of omega-3 in 65 older adults showed improvements in the connectivity of the brain, increases in the size of key brain regions and improved cognitive functioning after 26 weeks of use.
According to Evans and Burghardt the events that happen to us during our sleep are vitally important to brain power. If we cut short our sleep time, which is unique to each person, we limit our brains ability to cycle through certain hormonal events and memory consolidation efforts. Making a habit of not allowing the brain to complete those tasks means diminished rather than increased brain power. I know quick naps during the day are very refreshing for me also.
Diet is importantas well. A study published in ‘Archives of Neurology’ suggests that following a Mediterranean diet can provide a powerful defense against mental decline. After 5 years, people who followed this diet – high in fish, fruit, vegetables, legumes and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, moderate in alcohol and low in red meat and dairy products – had a 28% lower risk of cognitive impairment.
A ‘happy’ brain can help to fight off infection. The body’s immune system responds directly to changes in the brain. A sad event – such as losing a loved one – can produce a measurable depletion in the number of infection-fighting blood cells for 4 days.
Another one of the keys to increased brain power is relaxation? Sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it, when all around us we are seeing people create and sustain stress chemistry in their body to increase income and production. However, stress hormones actually stop neurogenesis just as effectively as ethyl alcohol does, so it is very important that we manage the stress chemistry we have and only use it when we are actually under attack, when we need to move effectively in order to save our lives.
I remember reading about research done with the Navy’s Top Gun pilots that indicated the most effective pilots going through that training were the pilots who were able to change their brain waves from beta brain waves, or focused external awareness to alpha waves, or relaxed external awareness and back again frequently. In other words they did brief periods of brain work and then relaxed briefly also. HearthMath is a wonderful tool to facilitate that kind of brain activity.
We’ve probably heard the common advice to take up crossword puzzles and play mahjong or chess to keep the mind fit. That’s a good start. It will definitely make you better at solving cross-word puzzles or playing either game. But that alone won’t help you find your car keys or remember phone numbers and names, says cognitive neuroscientist Robert Logie. Just as runners devote a portion of their training to swimming and cycling, you’ll need to vary the range and difficulty level of your activities if you want to keep your brain in prime shape. Athletes call this cross training.
There’s evidence that intellectually curious people are more resistant to brain decline. They have what scientists call a cognitive reserve, which means that they have more nerve cells and dendrites than others to begin with. So if their brains eventually suffer damage due to disease such as Alzheimers, they are likely to function well for a longer period. So develop a curious mind for things around you that matter.
I take a keen interest in personal development and helping people make the most out of life. I believe in life-long learning and self improvement to keep being relevant, meaningful and contributing to society. I have spent many years studying the traits and values of successful people and applying this in my job as a successful fund manager and in my personal life.