Four Ways to Build a Better Brain
Who would have thought that the most assured way to build a better brain is to build a better body? Well, not precisely – but the science shows that some simple, consistent exercise does more to improve the brain than crossword puzzles and blueberries.
LAST NIGHT I was flipping through some old magazines that I saved in case I ever made the time to read them. Last night, had the time and inclination. And the article I’d like to share with you is from a January 2011 edition of Newsweek.
The title: “Grow Your Mind… the truth about how to boost your brain’s performance”. The startling conclusion – even for an avid exerciser like me – I’ve already suggested: exercise improves the brain more than various brain games and cognitive skill exercisers (along with one other thing, #4 below). This fact is particularly important to those middle aged and beyond.
Neuroscientists admit that they know little about the mechanisms of cognition. They don’t know much about why one brain is smart and the other… well, not so. They simply do not know the mechanism of cognitive enhancement.
What neuroscientists do know is that greater cognitive capacity occurs from having more neurons or synapses, higher levels of neurogenesis, and increased production of compounds, such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which stimulates the production of neurons and synapses.
All that stuff in the above paragraph boost learning, memory, reasoning and creativity – all the stuff you and your brain would be happy to have more of.
Want to improve your brain function?
Do this, particularly numbers 3 and 4:
- Learn new, difficult things, like a language. Doing this necessitates the creation of new brain “circuits”, and the more of them you have and the more often you use them, the stronger your brain gets.
- Focus and train. This is part of #1 above, for you can’t do something like learn new, difficult things without focusing and training.
- Exercise. Along with #4 below, exercise is one of two activities that does more than benefit the specific task at hand… in other words, the cognitive capacity increased by exercise transfers to other things, does generalize to other tasks. Note this: a year of exercise can give a 70-year old the neuron connectivity of a 30-year old, improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multitasking.
- Meditation. This is the second activity, along with exercise, that studies have found increases a brain’s overall capacity that transfers to new cognitive tasks. Meditation builds focus, and such focus results in enhancing mental agility and attention.
All this is personally good to know, for I have consistently exercised and almost-consistently meditated throughout my adult life. So, some day I expect to wake up smarter. Hope springs eternal.
Go read more about this in the Newsweek article, Grow Your Mind.