Your brain—if it only worked as well as it should, you’d always be able to find your keys, finish projects in half as much time and come up with those witty comebacks on the spot.
The good news? Proper nutrition, lifestyle habits and the way you challenge your brain actually can enhance your mental capabilities. Want to get smart? Here’s how:
Food for thought …Pump up your plate
Feeding your brain a diet rich in vitamins and minerals can help sharpen your mental abilities. For instance, researchers have found that dieters who lack a sufficient amount of boron—a mineral found in broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower—have trouble retaining information. And studies show that women whose diets are low in zinc and iron have a tougher time on standard memory tests than women whose diets are rich in these minerals. Some studies suggest that taking in adequate but still low levels of key nutrients can eat away at your intellectual power. A good way to safeguard your brain is to eat a varied diet and take a multivitamin daily.
Slash the fat
You can maximize your mental prowess by minimizing fat. Fatty foods sap brain power because they take a long time to digest. When blood is diverted from your brain to facilitate digestion, your mental alertness and concentration diminish.
Plan your meals
Not just what you eat, but when you eat it, may greatly affect your mental abilities. Researchers have found that people who eat a protein-rich lunch—such as chicken or fish—are able to perform complicated mental tasks better than those who consume a carbohydrate-rich lunch, such as spaghetti. The reason? Proteins elevate dopamine and norepinephrine levels, two brain chemicals that help you feel mentally energetic. Carbohydrates, instead, boost levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that has a tranquilizing effect.
Always eat breakfast
Skipping any meal can cause blood sugar to plummet, leaving you unable to think clearly. Breakfast is the worst meal to skip, since your body’s been fasting for eight or more hours.
Baby your brain … Kick any bad habits
Smoking deprives the brain of the oxygen it needs for optimal functioning. Over time, smoking can damage brain cells and inhibit memory. To stay sharp, also steer clear of illegal drugs or excessive use of alcohol—both can destroy brain cells.
Exercise your mind
When it comes to brain power, if you don’t use it, you can lose it. People who are continually mentally challenged appear less likely to develop dementia than others with less intellectual stimulation. That’s because brain cells communicate via tiny branches called dendrites. When the brain cells are stimulated, these dendrites grow, making the connections between cells more complex. This improves memory, attention span and learning ability. To keep your mind razor sharp, exercise your mental muscle. Tackle word games or puzzles, give yourself a creative challenge like poetry, or simply use a new word every day. For long-term brain improvement, consider learning a language or taking a class.
Work your body
Exercising at least three times a week can help keep your brain fit. A study published by the American College of Sports Medicine found that aerobic exercisers performed better on mental tests than those who were less active. Studies of older adults also have found that regular exercise can improve the speed with which the brain processes information. Walking briskly or doing any other form of aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes three times a week will increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain, protecting brain cells from aging.
Give it a rest
Stress drains mental energy by keeping you on edge. To give your brain a chance to slow down and recharge, try a relaxation exercise like this: Find a quiet spot and close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a tranquil place such as a beautiful garden. With that image in mind, start to breathe slowly and deeply, paying attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. Clear your mind of everything but the sound of your breath and the pleasant vision you’ve created. Allow yourself to stay in this peaceful state until you feel totally relaxed.