10 Ways To Change Your Brain In 10 Minutes, No Matter Your Age
Two common misconceptions about brain health are 1) you don't have to worry about it when you're younger, and 2) there's no reason to keep improving it when you're older. But, research has shown, you can change your brain no matter how old you are.
If you're in your 20s and assume you don't have to worry about cognitive decline, think again. The human brain doesn't fully mature until age 25. Some neuroscientists suspect the brain may even keep developing into our 30s. This means your current diet, sleep, exercise patterns, alcohol consumption, and overall lifestyle are affecting how your brain is developing.
If you're fortunate enough to reach your 80s or older, you have every reason to keep improving your cognitive health and function, too. If you take care of your brain, it will allow you to stay sharp so you can continue to engage with your friends and family, read books, enjoy movies, and pursue your hobbies. At the clinic, I even saw people in their 80s boost their cerebral circulation and improve their brain function.
Remember that the brain can always change. I have a saying I like to use with my clients: No brain left behind. We can make your brain better, no matter what your age is. Here's how to start right now:
1. Take a brisk walk.
Research shows a short bout of exercise can increase cerebral blood flow, creativity, new idea generation, and overall executive function. If you've reached a mental block at work or need to prepare for a big meeting, do your brain and your career a favor by taking a fast walk around the office.
2. Eat a square of dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is rich in minerals and contains high levels of healthy plant compounds known as flavonoids, which can help to stave off free radicals and increase cerebral circulation and oxygen delivery. Some studies even show eating dark chocolate two hours before an event improves memory and reaction time. Just be sure to stick to dark chocolate—neither milk nor white chocolate contains high flavonoid levels.
3. Sit up straight.
Sitting up straight, with your shoulders back and neck long, can instantly increase blood flow to the brain. Studies also show sitting up straight can improve how others see you and increase self-confidence.
4. Write with your nondominant hand.
This little exercise asks your brain to go outside its everyday comfort zone, strengthening neural connections and helping to spur neurogenesis. For some people, the mere act of writing by hand is a novelty for the brain, since they're accustomed to only texting or typing.
5. Savor a big bowl of blueberries.
If you're interested in growing new neurons, snack on a big bowl of blueberries. These berries are packed with flavonoids, polyphenols, and other healthy compounds that studies show can increase neurogenesis.
6. Learn a new word.
Expanding your vocabulary enhances your cognitive ability and overall intelligence while instantly adding new neurons to your hippocampus. Want a reminder to do this every day? Buy a page-a-day calendar that highlights a new daily definition, or download a dictionary app on your phone with this feature.
7. Visualize ways to improve your day.
Not only do visualization exercises calm the mind and lower stress, they also improve mood and can even optimize performance at work, in the gym, and in overall life. Professional athletes and CEOs often use the tactic before important events or make it part of their daily morning routine.
8. Create 10 minutes of white space.
Go into a room without phones and TV. No dings, beeps, chimes, chirps, news feeds, broadcasts, or other distractions or demands—just you in a room with your eyes open or closed, enjoying 10 minutes of time without any sources of stress. This exercise helps calm the sympathetic nervous system and can provide a greater sense of mental and emotional control for the rest of your day.
9. Sniff your stress away.
Using essential oils at home or in the office can help lower stress, calm the sympathetic nervous system, and alter brain wave activity to improve your cognitive function and mood. Which scent is best? According to research, lavender is great for lowering stress, bergamot can help increase energy, and frankincense works to bring more oxygen to the brain.
10. Write down one thing you're grateful for.
Write down one thing you're grateful for on a sticky note and post it on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, office computer, or anywhere you'll see it throughout the day. Every time you do, the little reminder will help relax you, lower stress, and improve your mood.
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Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D. conducted her graduate research in the laboratory of Neurophysiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and the laboratory of Neurogenetics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She received M.S. degrees in Physiological science and Neurobiology and a Ph.D. degree in Neurobiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She was a postdoctoral scientist in the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where she continued her work in the field of neurodegenerative disease. Willeumier was the recipient of an NIH fellowship award from the National Institute of Mental Health and has presented her work internationally. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.