Saturday, 19 January 2013

Building a better brain

So, you've got a brain. It's a good one. It works hard and learns lots and knows where it wants to go - which is further. How do you make it go further? How do you make your brain better?

I was contemplating these cerebral questions while tidying up in the quiet time of a new year at work. And there, sticking out in our resource library was  my answer. 

Thanks to "The Leadership Brain - for Dummies" [and some extra help from Google] here are ten tips to get you started on making your brain healthier.

#1 Eat Nutritiously
If you really want high levels of cognition and the ability to learn new information more easily, begin with your diet. Foods that are particularly helpful for keeping our grey matter happy are:

Wholegrains with a low GI which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day.

Good sources of essential fatty acids such as linseed (flaxseed) oil, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil and soya beans. Also, oily fish including salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers.

Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility. One of the best sources of this vital vitamin are blackcurrants, which are almost impossible to buy in Australia so your citrus fruits are the next best thing.

Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.

Colorful fruits and vegetables are particularly good antioxidant "superfood" sources. Try leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce and rocket, and fruit such as apricots, mangos, rockmelon and watermelon.

Green tea contains polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect against free radicals that can damage brain cells. Among many other benefits, regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging.

#2 Move It or Lose It
According to the research of Dr John Medina, author of Brain Rules and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, exercise can increase your cognitive abilities in a matter of weeks. Aerobic exercise only twice a week for about 30 minutes increases blood flow and provides more oxygen to the brain - all of which means that new blood vessels are formed and old ones are renewed, keeping your brain cells healthy.

#3 Rest
Brain science believes that you learn while you sleep. Your brain repeats the connections that it made during the day as it was learning and having other experiences. The process is called consolidation , and interruptions to your sleep at specific times affect what you remember.

#4 Relax
According to some researchers, the stress hormones, such as cortisol, can actually disconnect a network of neurons in your brain. To keep your stress low, try the following:

a. Relax, listen to music, take a walk, and run from stress.
b. Spend time with upbeat people, laugh, and steer away from cynics.
c. Manage time, create do-able daily targets, and avoid overloads
d. Take up a sport, do stairs, park far from doors and avoid passivity.

#5 Keep Your Memory in Shape
If you want to improve your memory and your brain, you have to use it.
Memorise something. If you don't like memorising numbers, try a poem or some funny stories. Even just retelling your favourite joke will help. These are great workouts for your working memory.

Over time you forget memory strategies: giving your memory a workout can give the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with some of them. Keep working it!

#6 Pick Up a Book
Have you read a good book lately? Reading is good for your brain. It also increases your vocabulary and helps you build new connections in your brain, maybe even causing new neurons to develop.

#7 Be Upbeat
What makes you happy? Make a list and take a long look at it. Make sure you find time to do those things that truly make you feel good. Optimism in a leader builds confidence in employees and customers.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
—Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

#8 Make a Few Changes
Now is the time to break some of your routines. Try a new route to work or a new hobby. Breaking your routine causes you to be more aware of how your mind is working. The brain likes novelty. Give it something new to think about, and you make some new connections.

#9 Name That Tune
The brain likes music [mine especially!] and learning how to play a musical instrument excites your brain. Playing music activates several areas of the brain and so gets blood and oxygen flowing in various structures, making an overall healthier brain.

If you don't play an instrument, at least play "Name that tune." Someone hums the first few notes of a song and you try to guess the title. My friends and I do a modified version of this through Facebook where we type a lyric of song as our status update and you need to type the next line of that song [or the title] to play. That can wake up a few sleepy cells!

#10 Teach Someone Else
Research has suggested for years that teaching others is the number-one way to learn information yourself. Teaching reinforces old connections, strengthens new connections, and strengthens social skills too.

They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when it comes to the brain, scientists have discovered that this old adage simply isn’t true.

Whether you're an old dog or a young pup, there's no time better than right now to improve your mental performance.

"The Leadership Brain for Dummies"
My own brain

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