Does your memory lets you down once in a while?
Mine do. I have a Google Calendar with alerts set, an email to-do list and loads of notes scattered around my desktop, but at the end of the day I still realize I forgot to do something important. Not to mention I've been struggling to learn a foreign language and have a toddler attention span thanks to working on the Internet.
Pretty frustrating, right?
So, I've decided to develop a five step how-to aimed at improving my cognitive performance. So far - so good. Here's what you can do
1. Challenge yourself
One of the most seemingly common sense advice I've found on the web is to play all sort of memory and logic games aimed at improving your memory and problem-solving skills. Seems pretty reasonable, right? Wrong!
Individual brain training games don't make you smarter says Andrea Kuszewski at Scientific American. Puzzles, Sudoku and games alike just make you more proficient at the brain training games.
The thing is - all those games have short-term effect. Once you become a Sudoku ninja your brains no longer get any benefit from the activity. You now solve the puzzles in half autopilot mode without actually paying much attention. I did notice that myself with crosswords.
Solution: once you master one of those brain-training games aimed at specific cognitive activity, you need to move on to the next challenging activity.
There are enough games and apps on the web to keep you entertained and your brains challenged. If you look for a long-term solution - try playing chess. Warning: they can become pretty addictive and significantly decrease your productivity (at least in my case).
2. Stay physically active
The 2nd most common tip I've gotten was to exercise more. Sure, jogging and working out have plenty of other health benefits (obvs), but I was curious how exactly can it boost my cognitive performance.
So, according to a study published at Journal of Physical Anthropology physical exercise improves the flow of blood in the brain, thus enhancing functionality of various neurotransmitters involved in cognitive processes. The same study also points that exercises improve our mood which may indirectly exert a positive effect on cognitive functioning. Also, work outs stimulate production of a muscle protein called FNDC5 in our bodies, which stimulates the genes responsible for learning and memory.
However, researchers also noted that only moderate amounts of physical activity can result into cognitive benefits. Being a workout junkie will actually decreases these effects. According to this study, the relationship between physical activity and cognitive improvement can be characterised as an inverted, U-shape. So the goal is to stay at the top of the U and avoid sliding down.
I've started attending pool each weekend and do simple exercises for 30 min in the morning and another 15 during the day. Also, I'm planning to take dancing classes as well, that's something I've always wanted to do, plus dancing improves your ability to take faster decisions and your brains are constantly engaged in learning new patterns which also boosts your cognitive performance.
3. Improve your diet
Here's some food for thought: researchers claim that foods we consume have direct impact on our ability to remember and the likelihood of developing dementia as we grow older.
As usual, there are good things to munch:
- Wholegrains: those with a low-GI, which release glucose slowly and keep our brains supplied and alert throughout the day.
- Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fats that slow down brain aging.
- Berries esp blackcurrant are full of vital vitamins, particularly Vitamin C that increases mental agility. Also, blackcurrant is known to slow down sight loss.
- Pumpkin seeds are full of zinc which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking abilities.
- Nuts - a no-brainier indeed. They are just super healthy.
- Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and helps you regulate blood pressure and blood flow.
- Coffee (in moderate amounts) boosts our sleepy brains, coffee's antioxidants help maintain brain health and some researches even say it even helps to stave off depression in women
- Spinach is full of lutein which protects against cognitive decline.
Most of the foods listed above are part of the Mediterranean diet - the ultimate set of nutritional recommendation based on Greek, Southern Italian and Spanish cuisine, the one I've been sticking to for quite a while. It's delicious, easy-to-follow and healthy.
Also, as an additional boost, I've gotten nootropic supplements from Pure Nootropics for the days when I don't have time and efforts to cook elaborate dishes and eat fast-food.
4. Do things that hard way
Technology today are awesome. They are all aimed at increasing our efficiency and productivity by 400%, so that we could do even more things.
However, it's not always good for our brains. As a result of spending less energy and activity on each task, we lose some important cognitive things.
Here's a quick example: I travel a lot around France and typically use GPS to move around the new city. Some time ago, I crashed my tablet and had to rely on my sense of direction and a good old paper map. What I've noticed - it got dramatically worse comparing to the days when I had no GPS at all! I've decided to stop using navigator at all for a while. Yes, I now need more time to get from point A to point B and got lost a few times (which isn't that bad, you know), but I started to notice that my orientation skills gradually improve and so does my memory.
Same goes with spell-checkers. When was the last time when you've typed a huge piece without one? Give it a try and see how many minor, high-school spelling mistakes you've made.
To train and challenge your brains, sometimes it's better to get back to non-tech days and say no to brain shortcuts.
5. Mindful reading
There's a huge brain difference between flipping through a glossy magazine or Buzzfeed listicles and a fine novel or research article. Your brain will develop more connections and spark with new ideas as you mindfully go through the texts instead of just scanning them. Focus on reading something more instructive than merely entertaining. Another good exercise, after you've put away the book - try to recall and summarize what exactly have your read and what you have learned to boost retention. I typically do that in bed, just before going to sleep.