Strength Train Your Brain
Soon I'm advancing to more rigorous levels for every game. My score dramatically improves on a tough test called Memory Matrix, in which I'm asked to remember patterns that appeared on a computerized grid. Woo-hoo! Will I be coming back for more? You can bet on it.
I'm having such a good time that it almost doesn't matter whether my brain has been boosted. But it has gotten stronger: Over the course of a month, my average score has increased 36 percent; the "attention" area, my weakest from the start, has shot up 58 percent.
Off-line, I can happily report that I mention Bradley Cooper by name when asking my husband to add Silver Linings Playbook to the Netflix queue. Also, I now pay much better attention when I'm reading. That has helped me to become more time efficient with work and to converse more fluently on current events.
So am I actually smarter? Probably not. But the appearance of intelligence sure makes me feel better about myself. And if that's not genius, I don't know what is.
7 Smart Secrets
A better brain is not just fun and games. Try these tips to tone your mental muscle.
Stay hydrated. The brain is 80 percent water, says Daniel Amen, MD, the author of Use Your Brain to Change Your Age. If you don't drink enough H20 throughout the day, its volume can shrink slightly, which will make it harder for you to concentrate. Aim for about eight glasses.
Calm down. Stress hormones change the brain's prefrontal cortex, which can affect memory, attention, and decision making, studies show. Whenever you start to feel frazzled, breathe deeply or meditate for a few minutes.
Eat healthy. Blueberries, salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed have compounds that strengthen neural connections, says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, a professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Fill your diet with fresh, healthy foods.
Lace up your sneakers. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week has been found to improve memory, decision making, and brain health, says Art Kramer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Sleep seven to eight hours a night. Snoozing for less than six hours or more than eight impairs reasoning and vocabulary.
Learn new skills. Master a foreign language or a musical instrument to help your mind flourish. And turn off your GPS; in a study at McGill University in Canada, people who regularly created a map in their mind had a more active hippocampus, the area where learning takes place.
Hang with your friends. Have weekly dinners with pals. Take classes at the gym. Go to parties. When scientists studied 80-year-olds, they found that those who were the most social had suffered 70 percent less cognitive decline than the least social of the bunch.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2013.
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