Here’s to a healthy brain
Researchers are unanimous! Physical activity is the best thing you can do for your gray matter.
And why is that? Because physical exercise increases blood circulation and gets those neurons firing. Physical activity also increases the glucose and oxygen supply to the brain and helps eliminate toxins.
This would explain why athletes do better than sedentary people at tests measuring long-term memory, attention span, and the ability to reason and resolve problems.
- Add endurance exercises to your agenda twice a week to reduce the risk of dementia by 50% and Alzheimer’s by 60%.
Sleeping your way to the best performance
People who suffer from insomnia will be the first to tell you how sleep deprivation affects their mental performance.
Lack of sleep has other side effects too:
- Reduced concentration
- Memory loss
- Diminished capacity for logical reasoning
- Deterioration in motor skills
- Mood swings
Scientific evidence is mounting that sleep is essential for the human body. During this period of rest, the brain consolidates the events of the day during what is called slow-wave (SWS) or deep sleep. This is when the day’s events and memories are more firmly rooted.
Everybody is different when it comes to how much sleep they need. Some may only need 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night while others – like human koala bears, require at least 10 hours of sleep to feel refreshed.
No matter what your sleep needs are, a mid-afternoon nap is THE best way to rest your brain and let it recuperate. Thirty minutes is enough to do the trick.
- Listen to your body and get the hours of sleep it needs.
Get rid of chronic stress
In a stressful situation, your brain’s hypothalamus sends a signal to the adrenal glands, which secrete adrenaline. Your pulse accelerates, your blood pressure goes up, and all your senses are on alert to get you out of danger.
Your brain also secretes cortisol, a hormone that is beneficial in small doses as it enhances the brain’s problem-solving capabilities. It has an adverse effect if secreted over a long period or in large quantities because the human body is not designed to sustain stress on a permanent basis.
It has been proven that chronic stress has a perverse effect on the hippocampus, where learning and memory reside. Researchers have even observed that stress hormones cause lesions in the hippocampus and prevent it from producing new neurons.
- Reduce stress by providing a stable home environment, which is important to learning for children.
- Get control over your life. This can mean quitting an overly stressful job or leaving a toxic relationship.
- Put everything in place to ensure family/work balance.
- Exercise and do sports.
We have two types of memory:
- Short-term memory (also called working memory)
- Long-term memory
The first allows us to remember new information temporarily. If this new information is not repeated or reinforced, it’ll be forgotten.
Long-term memory is used to store new information. When memories are frequently accessed, they become much stronger and easier to recall.
So why do we sometimes forget memories that are so precious to us? Information that is not recalled can sometimes weaken or even be lost or replaced by other information.
Forgetting is not always a bad thing. It’s a way to focus on what is important to help you make decisions rather than concentrate on unimportant details.
- Recall information to remember it.
- Reproduce the environment in which you learned the information in the first place for easier recall.
- Create mental images and give the information meaning.
Multiply the senses
We learn better in a setting where all the senses are activated, especially our sense of smell.
Smells enhance the ability to evoke memories. They go directly to the amygdala, the brain’s emotion centre.
- Use multimedia as a learning prop as it has been proven that we remember more information if the words come with images.
- If smell is included, you increase your chances of remembering new information.
Music soothes the heart … and the mind
The benefits of music on music lovers and musicians have been amply demonstrated.
Music is known for contributing to language development, memory and motor skills.
It also contributes to one’s social graces as it increases empathy and sensitivity to emotions.
The phenomenon is explained by the liberation of 3 substances in the brain:
- Dopamine: Known as a neurotransmitter of happiness, dopamine triggers feelings of pleasure and helps memory forming.
- Cortisol: Is released when one’s listening to music and decreases stress.
- Ocytocine: This hormone stimulates the feeling of belonging and trust in a group. It’s the reason behind the idea of “strength in numbers.”
For more tips
Would you like to learn more about healthy minds on a daily basis?
Follow the advice of John J. Medina, molecular biologist and researcher, in his book Brain rules updated and expanded (French only).