Exercise increases the body’s intake of oxygen and speeds up nerve impulses between brain cells. Studies also show that one hour of exercise five times a week will help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, because it increases circulation, gets rid of stress, and cools off inflammation. Exercise also encourages nerve cells to produce proteins such as neurotrophic factor that improve brain health and cognitive function like learning. Research in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2012 showed that exercise improves the function of mitochondria that produce energy, and in turn brain power.
Choose something that you enjoy so you stick with it. If you love to dance, put on your favorite tunes. If you love the snow, try cross-country skiing. If you love the water, swim. Take a walk and watch the world go by. Aim for thirty minutes of exercise three to four times a week. You’ll notice the difference!
Because your nasal cavities are very close to the brain, you can use aromas to easily stimulate mental alertness. Try using the aromas of basil, bay, eucalyptus, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, peppermint, and rosemary to boost brain power. The smell of vanilla is being investigated for its ability to help people recall childhood memories.
Cineole, which is especially high in basil, ginger, orange, peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary, has been found to increase blood flow to the brain. Smell the same essential oil, like rosemary (Greek scholars put garlands of rosemary around their heads and necks to help them learn), when studying and then use it again when taking a test or having to perform.
Aromatherapy can be as simple as putting a few drops of an essential oil on a tissue and inhaling it, putting a few drops on a pillow, or using it as a subtle perfume. Or you can use a diffuser to disperse the aroma into the room.
A good place to massage to enhance mental alertness is the SI-13 acupuncture point, which is found by reaching your right hand over the left shoulder and, with the middle finger, pressing into the pointy edge of the shoulder blade on the upper back. Repeat on other side. This increases blood flow to the brain stem
4. Brigitte’s Advice for Building Better Brains
Choose things to do that appeal to you or areas you know you need to focus on and take action to build brain power starting today.
- Expand your experiences. Traveling to school or work by new routes inspires different thoughts as various visions flash by.
- Avoid being stuck in a rut. Visit new places. Try new foods. Vary the places where you travel for vacation.
- Hang out with intelligent people. Converse with interesting people. Have a conversation with someone who has different views than you do.
- Play word games. Have in-depth discussions. Ask questions and get answers, even if you have to look them up yourself.
- Sharpen your senses by really focusing. Notice as many details as possible. Experience the world using as many senses as possible.
- Absentmindedness means that the mind was not present or focusing on the matters at hand. Ram Das was right: “Be here now.”
- An ancient saying goes, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” When learning new things, do your best to do it yourself.
- Practice good posture to better allow the flow of energy throughout the nervous system.
- Read challenging literature that offers new insights. Try the classics. Enjoy a genre that you have never before read, such as autobiographies, science fiction, or history. Read a magazine with information that is contrary to your own beliefs.
- Keep a pen or pencil handy. Always have something to write with. You never know when you are going to get a great idea.
- Make a collage or vision board of what you want to bring into your life.
- Play with toys. Collect children’s toys and get them out to share with your friends. Play!
- Mozart’s music has been shown to improve IQ scores. Chopin, Ravel, and Schubert are said to enhance stream of consciousness.
- Use your nondominant hand to complete simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, buttoning clothes, and eating. This requires you to use the side of the brain opposite the one you normally use.
- Use your feet to perform a task like putting clothes in the laundry hamper.
- Color therapists say that the color yellow is cerebrally stimulating. Highlight important passages that you read in yellow, wear the color, and visualize breathing it in. Consider using yellow in lighting and décor in places where mental work is being done. Full-spectrum lighting elevates serotonin levels.
- Quietly and closely observe nature. She abounds with beauty and intelligence even in minute detail that can inspire us in a positive way.
- Free your mind! Write down details—phone numbers, things to do, and goals—to get them out of your head and into action. Keep an engagement calendar. Record flashes of brilliance and words of wisdom. Make lists into meaningful categories.
- When taking classes, sit in different places to gain different perspectives and foster alertness.
- When attending lectures, take notes on key words and phrases.
- When you want to remember something, repeat it aloud to yourself. Visualize it being imprinted upon your brain.
- To help remember names, associate the name with a picture. Eileen has big blue eyes. Visualize Bob turning into a bobcat. Right after being introduced to someone, use his or her name. “It’s nice to meet you, Denise.” If you don’t quite catch how to say their name, ask them to spell it for you.
- When learning something important, with your mind’s eye, see yourself registering the information and filing it. Then practice retrieving it and re-filing it.
- Think positively. You’ll do better if you affirm that “I can pass this exam” rather than “I’ll never make it.”
- Listen to self-help CDs, DVDs, and downloads. Engage your mind.
- Avoid damaging substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, pollutants, artificial sweeteners, and MSG. Many medications have an adverse effect on the brain.
- Try studying in the afternoon or right before you go to sleep to remember more. The ideal amount of time to study is thirty-five minutes. In the last five minutes, review what was studied for the first thirty. Take a break in between study sessions if you need to study longer than thirty-five minutes.
- You may find that recording dreams gives you new insight. While dreaming, the brain generates chemicals and protein needed during awake time. People dream in color but usually remember dreams in black and white.
- Spend time each day doing nothing. Give the overworked brain time to rest.
- Learn about mudras (sacred hand gestures), mantras (sacred chanting), and yantra (pictures that help awaken the divine within). For example, chanting the mantra “om” aids opening of blockages in the spinal column as well as stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands.
- Sleeping with a sachet of rosemary in the pillowcase may help you to recall dreams. Before going to sleep, tell yourself that you want to remember dreams. Upon awakening, give yourself a few minutes to reflect and write down the stream of dreams that occurred. Having a notepad and pencil by the bed may give you the opportunity to record other important thoughts as well.
- Work in teams. Draw on the skills and ideas of friends and co-workers. Practice the art of brainstorming, where you record wild thoughts and ideas. This often leads to fruitful concepts.
- Break chains of blockage and negative thought with diversion. Go for a walk. Call a friend. See a movie.
- Creative people usually retain a childlike quality. My friend Timothy Leary, Ph.D., used to say, “Adulthood is a terminal disease.”
- The art of visualization is one way of practicing mental gymnastics. Einstein supposedly came upon the theory of relativity while visualizing flying along at the speed of light.
- Meditation is helpful to both calm and expand consciousness. Ideally meditate daily in the same place at the same times. In the morning soon after awakening and before eating are ideal. Sitting on a mat or chair will prevent the inclination to fall asleep. Sit quietly with your hands resting on your lap or gently beside you. Breathe softly, in and out. Listen to your internal sounds; simply focus on your breath.
- Prayer is when we talk to God. Meditation is when God talks back to us.
- Play mentally challenging games such as chess or Scrabble. Do puzzles, crosswords, and word jumbles.
- Make up acronyms. To remember your license plate, create a sentence using words beginning with each of the letters. For example, MRU607 might be Musk Rat Universe 6 oh! 7 (bizarre and whimsical are okay). Exercises to improve memory are called mnemonics, where you make up interesting information to help you remember something. For example, to remember the planets in their order of distance from the sun, take the first letter from each word: Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights.
- Use rhyme associations: Thirty days hath September. Mnemonics are words formed from the first letter of each item. For example, if your grocery list says buy apples, bananas, and oranges, you might think of the word BOA.
- Double a number for as long as you can (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64).
- Experiment with devices that can help stimulate various states of consciousness. I have found the ones that use sound through headphones and light perceived through closed eyes and a special set of glasses to be amazing and versatile, providing states of mind from relaxation to high excitement. Many larger cities have places where you can try the machines in the store and even rent them.
- Introverts tend to have their most creative time in the early mornings, while extroverts work better at night.
- Learn two new vocabulary words a week. Use them in a discussion or email.
- Learn a new fact daily (or use a daily calendar that has tear-off sheet with daily lessons). Read an entry in an encyclopedia daily. It is easier to absorb information if it’s gathered gradually than all at once.
- Memorize at least one great poem.
- Take an ordinary object and think of ten other ways it could be used. A book might be a doorstop, a writing pad a tool to walk with erect posture, etc.
- Keep learning things of value for your entire life. Learn new skills such as language, instruments, dance, martial arts, capoeira, or drawing. Take a class at a local community college. Join a book club. Keep things organized. Get rid of clutter and distractions. Learn about feng shui.
- Create art. Sketching, sewing, knit one, pearl two opens up neural pathways and can create works of beauty.
- Activate your other senses by getting dressed with your eyes closed. (Lay out your clothes the night before.) Enjoy a meal in the dark or in silence. Wear earplugs when walking to experience deeper levels of silence.
- Listen to music while you are smelling an essential oil.
- Vary the order in which you do things. Shower in the morning instead of at night. Eat breakfast for dinner.
- Envision a situation and ask, “What if?” Come up with an answer. What would blank do? Fill in the blank with Jesus? Peter Pan? Mae West? Black Elk?
- Always have a calendar handy. Nowadays many people use phones, but I prefer having it all on paper.
- Journal Topics:
- Make a list of 100 things you would like to accomplish in your life.
- Make a list of three skills you would like to master.
- Make a list of five things you would like to teach your children.
- Keep an open heart and open mind. Be open to the possibilities. Remember: “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but curiosity is the mother of discovery.” —Charles Handy