Everyone has heard the phrase, “objects in motion tend to remain in motion.” Newton was talking about the laws of motion, but his words can also be applied to the human brain. The brain, like the body, responds to mental stimuli, and can be “worked out,” just like a muscle at the gym. But while most people already know at least the basic tenets of working out their bodies, they might not know how to pump up their minds.
Brain training works around the principle of neuroplasticity. Let's break that down.
1. Neurons. Neurons are critical to brain function. Without them, you wouldn't be able to think. A neuron, or nerve cell, is a cell which uses chemical and electrical signals to transmit and process pieces of information. In a recent study, Brazilian researcher Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel found that the average human brain has about 86 billion of them.
2. Plasticity. Plastic is prized for its versatility: it can be rigid, but it can also be soft and flexible. In the context of the brain, think of plasticity in that soft, flexible state. When we learn or memorize new information (or when we have a serious head injury), changes occur among the neural pathways of the brain – kind of like plastic.
Ways to Boost Learning
So how can you put your brain to work? Here are five easy tips for a brain-boost.
1. Do mental puzzles. No matter how big an athlete gets, if they cap off their training period with a month lying around on the couch, some of that muscle is going to hit the road. Maintenance is half the game, and when it comes to the brain, a great method is doing mental puzzles, or “brain aerobics.” Activities like crossword puzzles and sudoku force your brain to retrieve information and figure out solutions, which can help strengthen neural connections.
2. Meditate. Stress is hard on your body, including your brain. When you're stressed out, everything becomes more work than it needs to be. A quick meditation session in the morning can help clear your mind for the rest of the day.
3. Eat right. We all know food can affect the heart, but what about the brain? B vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be able to boost mood and memory function. How about some salmon and eggs for breakfast?
4. Get some sunshine. Sunlight is double-hitter. Not only does it improve mood, it also helps you to synthesize vitamin D. When vitamin D receptors are activated, it can stimulate nerve growth in the brain.
5. Exercise. Exercise gets blood pumping to the brain, and blood carries oxygen. Enriching the supply of oxygen to your brain can help stave off neuron death, and keep neurons healthy.
You've got the tools now – get to it! Your brain will thank you.
Jeremy Murray is the Marketing Manager for a group of Psychologists in Philadelphia. He is a frequent author on wide range of behavioral topics.