7 Easy Ways to Get Your Brain Back Into Shape in '08


Whether it's those earnest New Year's resolutions or an upcoming feared birthday that will put you into that next age bracket, many people find themselves reaching the, "Okay, that's it...now I really need to start doing X, stop doing Y, and exercise Z times per week and eat more vegetables in 2008!"

These personal inflection points are often, if not always, focused on improving one's physical body and health -- the things that people see when looking at us, image-related and often fueled in part by the bombardment of media & advertising. 

Yes, getting in shape is great, and the holistic benefits of daily exercise and health diet cannot be overstated. But all of this focus on improving one's body image and physical health usually leaves out the one area that is arguably more truly important to our abilities, health, happiness and overall quality of life: our brains. Our mental health -- now, near-term and long-term. 

Let's get real: having a healthy, highly active cross-trained well-fueled brain does far more for every aspect of your life than flat abs or wrinkle creams could ever hope to do.

How many of you spend absolutely incredible amounts of precious time and money on visual, physical improvements while letting your brain atrophy on a diet of TV, web surfing, magazine articles and the occasional fiction novel? 

Don't feel badly if you do, because it's more common than not. Particularly in today's culture, it's all too easy to focus on what you (and others) can see -- to the detriment of the one part of your body that matters the most. 

And the ironic part? The things you can do to help get your brain back in shape, such as adding brain-fueling foods & drinks to your diet, will also do more for your physical health and appearance than any of those expensive products on store shelves. 

That's right: get your brain back, get your body back.

Make a resolution right now to get your brain (and overall health) back into shape this year. Starting today.

Here are seven easy ways that you can start getting your brain back every day, and set the stage for keeping your brain and body healthy from here forward:

1) Remember "D-I-D", or "Do it Different": one of the most frequently cited ways to keep your brain healthy, primed and ready as you age is to simply do routine, everyday things differently. Toss it up. Use your other hand to do common tasks such as doing dishes, using the computer mouse, brushing your teeth. Visit a restaurant, area or (better yet) country where you've never been. Break your rut and do a completely different set of activities on a specific day. Read (out loud!) a magazine article or few pages from a book on topics that you know nothing about, particularly on complex topics. Listen and practice with a foreign language training CD. You get the idea. 

Why does this work? 

Doing things differently forces your brain to wake up and prepare for the unexpected new activities and learning required, connecting little-used or previously unused synapses in the brain to rise to the challenge. Imagine those sleepy, dormant neurons in your brain suddenly being forced to wake up, spring into action and start connecting and building. 

By contrast, when we perform the same routine tasks and activities and experiences in the same predictable ways, our brains simply call on the same highly-optimized areas again and again, quite literally at the expense of the other dormant areas. So by frequently bombarding your brain with new experiences, sights, sounds, smells and challenges, your brain becomes more connected, primed and ready for the (expected) daily challenges that await. 

Yes, it's use it or lose it. So this is one easy way to use it -- not to mention add some rut-breaking spice & variety into your life to boot!

2) Cross-training mental exercises: somewhat similar to the above, this common-sense (and now research-supported) area can also be extremely fun and interesting. 

Simply put, forcing your brain to do a wide variety of mental exercises spanning logic, puzzles, math, word and language associations, creativity, memory and recall -- such activities ensure that ALL areas of your brain spring back into action, make new connections (even building new gray matter!) and, just like an elite athlete, are ready to breeze through the mental demands of life with ease. 

The key is variety, and frequency (ideally a short daily brain cross-training workout, just like with a physical exercise program). Many people noodle with the occasional Sudoku or crosswords session, but particularly for those who don't work in intellectually stimulating, ever-changing workplace environments, the kind of daily mental cross-training that one used to get back in school and college has been absent for many years, to the detriment of your brain. 

Doing a varied cross-training of mental exercises, even just ten minutes a day, can get your brain firing on all cylinders again in ways that you can actually feel -- just ask those who have experienced the benefits firsthand. This is the crux of why we created our BrainFlex exercises (worksheets, workbooks, interactive brain games, Audiobooks, BrainReady Podcasts) here at BrainReady, and it's why we focus on including such oft-neglected areas as creativity and memory exercises into the content. 

However and wherever you get your cross-training, try to increase variety, and ideally do a little bit each day. You'll feel the results.

3) Learn a musical instrument. The brain benefits of playing, learning, creating and listening to music are significant, not to mention a true labor of love for many.

Ever heard the notion that, "musicians tend to be really smart"? There may be a reason: particularly when learning to play a new instrument and creating original music, the brain utilizes a combination of areas and skills -- including strong physical connections, that result in a truly unique, whole-brain workout. 

Far from being a "right brain-only" activity, learning to play and write music or learning a new instrument engages everything from memory to logic to physical coordination to creativity, and in ways that only musical performance can do. 

And the good news is that it is never too late to learn to play an instrument, or re-start with that instrument or music writing you did years ago. 

Get musical this year, and then keep it up.

4) Learn a foreign language. Learning a new language, much like learning to play a musical instrument (but perhaps even stronger) is an incredible way to kick-start your brain back into action, build up that gray matter and foster new inter-brain connections...not to mention add a whole new dimension to your life. 

Particularly when learning a truly foreign, unfamiliar language -- such as an English-speaking person learning Japanese or Mandarin Chinese, one's brain is forced to utilize multiple areas and skills ranging from storage and retrieval to auditory and language center connections to almost everything in between, including speed of processing. 

And once you develop even basic reading ability in a foreign language, such things as reading articles or listening to speakers force your brain to perform real-time translation which serves as an excellent mental workout...and one that you'll be able to do every time you utilize those new language skills. 

Make learning a new language one of your top priorities for the next few years, then ideally visit (and spend some time) in a new foreign place where this language is spoken, and reap the multiple brain AND life benefits!

5) Read out loud. This one is so easy, there's really no excuse not to do it daily: reading out loud. Ideally, read rather dense, complex material (skip the celebrity gossip magazines), and pretend that you're reading the material in front of a large critical audience -- this will force you to focus on precision, tone, inflection, enunciation, and all in real-time. 

Why is reading out loud so much better than reading silently? 

Think about it: when you read out loud, your brain is forced to do a surprisingly complex array of activities spanning multiple areas. You have to scan slightly ahead in order to prepare your processing and speech for delivery, perform real-time analysis on the upcoming material to determine proper pitch/tone/inflection, decipher pronunciation of complex or unknown words and meanings, and more -- all while already articulating what you've already read into actual speech!

It's a wonderful brain workout, particularly when reading sophisticated material full of big words and unknown concepts. 

Even reading a few dense pages out loud each day will do the trick. So, no excuses: resolve to read out loud every day (try reading this entire BrainReady article out loud as a start).

6) Add just a few of these delicious superfoods (and drinks) into your regular diet: wild salmon, blueberries, turmeric root spice, organic 100% cocoa, and naturally caffeinated antioxidant-packed drinks (in moderation and only if you don't have contraindications) such as Yerba Mate, real Japanese Matcha green tea (and other green or white teas), and espresso coffee. 

As we've extensively covered here at BrainReady in our various BrainReady Blog health articles on these and other foods & drinks shown to provide significant health benefits to brain and body alike (and supported by multiple research studies worldwide), in addition to eating an overall holistically healthy, balanced, varied, natural foods-based diet rich in the full color spectrum of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, spices and other natural foods, certain foods and drinks in particular have been shown to possess particularly powerful benefits to brain health. 

And while there's no one magic superfood or cure-all tea that should be taken at the expense of an overall varied, balanced diet, some of these foods are just too good to miss when it comes to your brain (and body) health, especially as you get older. 

Wild salmon is a powerhouse of brain-boosting fatty acids (omega-3, ALA, DHA etc.) and clean protein. Blueberries, turmeric root and cocoa have been shown to be a potent brain foods with strong antioxidant-related protecting and enhancing effects, while teas such as Japanese Matcha green tea, white tea, Yerba Mate and coffee beans are antioxidant powerhouses that also provide many chemical compounds with brain-enhancing effects, including the caffeine (yes, when it comes to the brain, the caffeine naturally present is GOOD...as long as you don't have strong sensitivities or contraindications and don't overdo it).

All of these "superfoods" have been found to help with everything from cutting the risk of stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's and other brain problems as well as help with overall cognitive function. 

There are simply too many benefits to ignore, and why would you want to, when such foods and drinks are a pleasure to eat? 

(Be sure to read the full articles on each of these amazing foods here in the BrainReady Blog)

7) Sweat your way to brain health. Yes, here's where the focus on the physical does make sense, and it's further illustration of how true health is holistic, and integrated. 

Numerous studies show that regular physical exercise is essential for not just optimal brain health, but to help ward off mental (and physical) diseases, depression, and slow down the cognitive decline caused by aging. 

Exercising moderately most days of the week for at least 30 minutes (or ideally more) will do wonders for your brain health now, and in the future, not to mention make you simply feel better in your everyday life -- mentally (once you experience the rush and serenity of those exercise-induced endorphins, your brain will crave them, and help keep you motivated). 

Exercise will make you feel better, look better, think better, and have more energy & drive to incorporate the other six items on this list! 

So, there you have it: seven easy things that almost anyone can do to get one's most important asset (your brain) back into shape, starting today and then carrying with you for life. 

And as all of these activities and foods should be a life-enhancing pleasure, you no longer need to think of doing something for your brain as a painful chore. 

Once you've experienced how life will be with that new language, music, tasty healthy foods & drinks, and mental activities underway, it will be hard to go back the comparatively dull, numb former existence that your brain used to be subjected to. 

These are not just health changes -- they're life changes. And yes, you really can do them, starting right now.

- The BrainReady Team

(What are some of your top brain health tips, techniques, hobbies and practices? Discuss below by clicking the 'Comments' link below and share tips with other BrainReady readers...)

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