Boost Your Brainpower With Common Sense Action
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Here are four easy ways to sharpen your brainpower. You probably already know some of them just from experience. And even though I can refer you to scientific studies that support the methods, you will find them mostly just good sense.
I’m constantly telling people that physical exercise is the most excellent stress reliever and well-known tool in the alleviation of depression. All allied health practitioners will tout it as essential to good health and longevity. But lesser publicized are its effects on brain function and thinking.
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and consequently more oxygen and glucose reach that marvelous organ of cognition. That means that new brain cells grow and flourish and fewer brain cells die. Not only does that help us think more clearly and perform better on thinking-related tests, research shows that it can protect us from cognitive decline in middle age and later years. It also appears to have a protective effect against stroke.
(If you want to read more on the subject, there is an excellent article at http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html that you can start with. And http://hpp.beckman.uiuc.edu/news/WallStJNov162006.pdf explains even more.)
Listen to Music -- Or Make Music
Discoveries publicized by Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander in their book SuperLearning® included research findings that certain high frequency music -- particularly Mozart -- had effects that could accelerate learning. They also showed how music with 60 beats per minute could be used to greatly improve retention of learning. (Interestingly, 60 beats per minute is the average resting pulse of the athletically fit.)
Many studies show that music of various kinds can produce both stimulating and relaxing effects which help us do many intellectual tasks better. That is especially true for those who not only listen to music but also play it. Playing and -- even better -- composing music can actually boost your I.Q.
(For further reading, get a copy of E. Glenn Schellenberg’s paper on the subject at http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/ps/musiciq.pdf. Or visit http://www.mindinst.org for more extensive serious research.)
So, does all this mean iPods are good for your health?
Good nutrition, like exercise, is beneficial for overall health. But for top-notch performance, you really need to feed your brain well. Protein and complex carbohydrates are the brain fixers and brain boosters. Forget the simple sugars that give a momentary stimulation -- they’re followed shortly by a blood sugar drop, not good for the brain. With complex carbs we’re talking fruits like apples and pears and blueberries and products made with whole grains. For quick protein, remember that you don’t need to eat a chicken leg -- a snack-pack of walnuts will do well. You can nourish your brain without blowing a good diet plan.
It’s as important when you eat as what you eat. Good brain performance relies on regularly timed nutrition. Irregular meals and snacks promote irregular performance of both body and brain.
(For further reading, there’s a helpful article at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/nutr.html.)
Get Some Rest
Sleep is another category in the literature of overall good health. You may already know from experience that sleep deprivation makes for poor concentration, memory deficits and impaired judgement. And studies have shown that the inverse is true as well: optimal sleep improves concentration, memory and judgement.
What is important here is this: what is optimal sleep for you? The average need for sleep ranges from seven to nine hours. You should experiment to find what is best for you, not just try to conform to the “standard.” You’ll suspect if you awaken feeling refreshed and ready to go -- even if it’s only after six hours -- that you’ve probably had enough for now. Remember also that not everyone gets all the sleep they need in one long night. Some folks do best with a shorter than average nighttime sleep session, bolstered by napping during the day. Some folks are night owls who flourish well into the wee hours but can’t drag themselves out of bed until noon. Others jump out of bed at daybreak and grab their running shoes. If you are one of the not-so-average, try to find work that will accommodate your particular needs. It will pay off in terms of performance.
(For more reading on sleep try http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm.)