The human brain is a very adaptable organ. From young age to old age, the brain constantly changes and adapts. This ability is called neuroplasticity, and it shows that with the right stimulation, new neural pathways can be formed, and existing connections altered to reshape the brain, and increase cognitive ability, learn new things, and improve memory.
The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is simply not true as far as the brain goes. However, although an organ, the brain is much like a muscle in the body, it if is not used and strengthened regularly, it will atrophy and lose functional ability.
To keep your brain strong, and to help it adapt and change, and form new neural pathways, consider the following 7 things you can do to strengthen your brain naturally:
Socializing is good for strengthening the brain. You can do this by spending time with family and friends, doing volunteer work, joining a club or group (i.e bowling league) or reaching out more to those you know.
As humans, we are very social animals, and we tend to thrive best when in groups. Interacting with others is great brain exercise as it forces the brain to quickly adapt, change, and problem solve as you navigate through social interaction.
Meaningful relationships have been shown to have a strong tie to emotional and brain health. The Harvard School of Public Health recently did a study that showed people with more active social lives have slower rates of memory decline in old age.
2: Play Brain Games and Board Games
When we get caught in the cycle of doing repetitive tasks too often, mental acuity can dull. It is important to constantly challenge the brain. This will make you smarter, and give you a stronger brain. This can be done through brain games such as cross word puzzles, Sudoku, etc. Or can even be accomplished through playing regular board games.
Board games require strategy, organizing a plan, working with others, adapting to your situation, and thinking yourself through challenges. Make game playing a regular part of your daily life. Did you notice that playing board games often also requires socialization? It is like getting a 2-for-1!
3: Use Mnemonic Devices and Work on Memory
Mnemonics work to strengthen the brain by helping to stretch the brain and create new associations. Mnemonic devices are things like associating someone’s name with their shirt color or an interest so you can remember who they are when making introductions. They help you recall information more quickly and easily. Imagine if you could recall, right now, everything you have ever learned? It would be quite the feat.
Mnemonic devices help improve memory by giving you association based clues to what you are trying to recall. Working on memory daily by forcing yourself to memorize something, playing a memory game, or practicing recalling information you learned a while ago will help strengthen your brain.
4: Meditate Regularly
Meditate daily or weekly if you can, as this helps to stimulate the brain. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine meditation may physically change the brain and body. They go on to say that a study conducted in 2012 suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information.
According to many different studies, the benefits of meditation for the mind and body are numerous, and even 15 minutes a day for as little as 8 weeks can result in less stress, better blood flow, increased focus, relaxation, and more.
Every knows that regular exercise is good for the body, and can even be good for the soul/mind. But did you know it is also critical for brain function? According to Cncahealth.com, “Regular physical activity is crucial for brain health, as it is associated with increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a protein that plays a role in creating new neurons.” Those who exercise regularly often increase memory, speech, and cognitive function, especially in the elderly.
Increasing the blood supply to your brain, through exercise, can help to improve memory, reaction time and mental clarity. If you want to strengthen your brain naturally, start by heading to the gym and strengthening your body. It goes hand in hand.
Exercise can be a great time for socialization as well. Join a team, or walk with a group to strengthen your brain in many ways simultaneously.
6: Eating Properly
The right foods impact the strength of the brain. As well as when you eat them, and how much of them you eat. Eating properly is key to a healthy body and brain.
Certain foods have been shown to increase brain strength. For example, foods rich in Omega-3 Fats, like wild-caught salmon can improve brain function as the DHA in the fish can increase the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that is associated with working memory. Of course there are some risks with wild caught salmon due to environmental contaminants, so you could opt to get your Omega-3 through supplements.
Eating a diet rich in healthful nutrients such as one rich in greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can support mental alertness and acuity.
One study showed that calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can boost brain power. It showed that calorie restriction of about 30% fewer calories per day could lead to increased verbal and memory scores in the elderly. Separate research also concluded, “It is now well established that caloric restriction could be used to promote successful brain aging.”
Therefore, eat a diet rich in wholesome and nutritious foods, fast intermittently, and do not over indulge often for a stronger, healthier brain.
Sleep is essential for a strong brain. Research has shown that missing even one night of sleep can increase the concentration of NSE and S-100B in the blood. These are typically found in the brain, and this means that not enough sleep could quite literally mean loss of brain tissue.
Brain repair and growth is thought to take place while individuals are sleeping.
It is critical that sleep become a priority for those who want a strong brain, especially the elderly. Melatonin, which is a naturally occurring substance that has sleep regulating properties declines with age, and so elderly individuals must make an even greater effort to get the right amount of sleep for a healthy, strong brain.
There are many other ways to strengthen the brain naturally, from learning new skills, playing musical instruments, learning a new language and more. But in general the idea is if you want a healthy, strong brain, lead an active, healthy lifestyle, and incorporate the traits of that into your daily life.