Issue 101, June 2008
10 Tips For Brain Fitness
For International Brain Awareness Week, the Neurological Foundation
of New Zealand offers the following tips to sharpen up.
Eat dark chocolate
The task: Add some dark chocolate to your diet.
The reason: When you eat chocolate you activate the systems in your brain that pump dopamine, an important brain chemical. These systems enable learning and memory, and help keep your brain sharp and fit.
Visit a museum
The task: Go on a guided tour of a museum or another site of interest. Pay attention to what the guide says. When you get home, try to reconstruct the tour by writing an outline that includes everything you remember.
The reason: Research into brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to change at any age) shows that memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation-receiving, remembering and thinking help to improve the function and hinder the rate of decline.
Memorise a song
The task: Choose a song with lyrics you enjoy but haven't memorised. Listen to the song as many times as necessary to write down all the lyrics. Then learn to sing along. Once you've mastered one song, move on to another.
The reason: Developing better habits of careful listening will help you in your understanding, thinking and remembering. Reconstructing the song requires close attentional focus and an active memory. When you focus, you release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical that enables plasticity and vivifies memory.
Exercise your peripheral vision
The task: Sit in a place outside your house, such as on a park bench or in a cafe. Stare straight ahead and don't move your eyes. Concentrate on everything you can see without moving your eyes, including in your peripheral vision. When you're finished, write a list of everything you saw. Then try again and see if you can add to your list.
The reason: Scientists have shown that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is crucial to focus and memory, falls off with memory loss and is almost absent in Alzheimer's patients. This activity should help you reinvigorate the controlled release of acetylcholine in your brain through a useful visual memory task.
Learn to play a musical instrument
The task: If you've ever thought about learning to play an instrument or take up an old one, now is a great time!
The reason: Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).
Do a jigsaw puzzle
The task: Do a jigsaw puzzle that will be challenging - no fewer than 500 pieces.
The reason: Mundane as they may seem, jigsaw puzzles can provide real help for your brain. Completing one requires fine visual judgments about where pieces belong. It entails mentally rotating" the pieces, manipulating them in your hands, and shifting your attention from the small piece to the "big picture". To top it off, it's rewarding to find the right pieces.
Turn down the TV
The task: Set your television volume down a little from where you normally set it. See if by concentrating you can follow just as successfully as when the volume was higher. Once that setting gets easy, turn it down another notch.
The reason: You can't get rid of radio static by turning up the volume. Many people raise the volume because their listening has become detuned, a little fuzzy. Matching TV volume to a conversational level can help you catch every word when talking with others.
Have a ball
The task: Practice throwing and catching a ball up in the air.
The reason: People who master these kinds of sensory-guided movement activities can hone their brain's visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses, with widespread positive impacts for the brain.
Step it up a notch
The task: Find an activity you like to do by yourself, such as completing a crossword puzzle or knitting, and take it to the next level. See if by concentrating and giving more effort to the activity you can succeed better or more quickly.
The reason: There is limited value in working at a game or exercise that you can perform without paying close attention. It is important to always strive to take it up a notch to a higher and more demanding level to re-engage the brain's learning machinery.
Learn to use the other hand
The task: If you're right-handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice-versa). Start with brushing your teeth left-handed and practice till you have perfected it. Then attempt more complex tasks, such as eating.
The reason: This is an exercise in which you know what you're supposed to achieve, but must do it in a new learning context. This can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand.
Acknowledgment: The Neurological Foundation of New Zealand
Acknowledgment: The Dominion Post - 10 March 2008