Did you know that you have one hundred billion nerve cells in your brain, and every nerve cell has many connections to other nerve cells? In fact, your brain has more connections in it than there are stars in the universe! Optimizing your brain’s function is essential to being the best you can be, whether at work, in leisure, or in your relationships. Did you know that there are things you can do to keep your brain in shape?

Research suggests that people who get plenty of physical exercise can wind up with better brains. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, found that adult mice who ran on an exercise wheel whenever they felt like it gained twice as many new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory, than mice who sat around all day. It’s possible that the voluntary nature of the exercise made it less stressful and therefore more beneficial – which could mean that finding ways to enjoy exercise, rather than just forcing yourself to do it, may make you smarter – and happier, too. So, play a sport, train for an event such as a marathon, or work out with a buddy to help keep things interesting.

 

Experience new tastes and smells; try to do things with your non-dominant hand; find new routes to drive to work; travel to new places; create art; read a novel; – basically, do anything you can to force yourself out of your mental ruts. It isn’t just physical exercise that makes brain cells active. You can build up various areas of your brain by putting them to work. Duke University neurobiology professor Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., co-author of Keep Your Brain Alive, says that novel ways of thinking and viewing the world can improve the functioning of inactive sections of the brain.

 

Scientists tell us that laughter is good for our health: it releases endorphins and other positively powerful chemicals into our brains. Laughing helps us reduce stress and break old patterns too. So laughter can be like a "quick-charge" for our brain’s batteries.

 

Your brain is a memory machine, so give it a chance to work! Spend time with your memories. Get out an old photo album or school yearbook. Let your mind reflect on them and your mind will repay you in positive emotions and new connections from the memories to help you with your current tasks and challenges.

 

Omega-3 oils, found in walnuts, flaxseed and especially fish, have long been touted as being healthy for the heart. But recent research suggests they’re a brain booster as well. Not only do they help the circulation system that pumps oxygen to your head, but they also seem to improve the function of the membranes that surround brain cells, which may be why people who consume a lot of fish are less likely to suffer depression, dementia, even attention-deficit disorder.

 

Trends in research show that music boosts brainpower because it makes listeners feel better – relaxed and stimulated at the same time. Frances Rauscher, a psychologist now at the University of Wisconsin, and her colleagues discovered that listening to Mozart improved people’s mathematical and spatial reasoning. In their experiments, rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after white noise or music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass. Rauscher subsequently reported that, for rats at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve cell signaling in the brain.

 

Different aromas trigger the brain in different ways, some allowing you to feel more revitalized, others more relaxed. Energizers include peppermint, cypress and lemon. Relaxants include ylang-ylang, geranium and rose. A few drops of essential oils in your bath or in a diffuser will do the trick. You can also put a drop or two in a cotton ball or hanky and inhale.

 

Reviewing key information and then sleeping on it increases retention 20 to 30 percent. You can leave that information next to the bed for easy access, if it is something that won’t keep you awake. If you are kept awake by your thoughts, writing everything down sometimes gets it "out of your mind," allowing you to sleep (so keep a pen and paper nearby).


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