Sunday 18 February 2018

Fifteen simple steps to reboot your brain

The mind can struggle to find balance in today's technology-driven world, writes Katie Byrne, but there are some things you can do to boost your brainpower.

The great outdoors will invigorate the senses and clear your mind
The great outdoors will invigorate the senses and clear your mind
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

The breakneck speed of modern life takes its toll on brain power. We're all working longer hours, taking less breaks and using more modes of communication. And yet we all feel that there just aren't enough hours in the day.

It doesn't bode well for our cognitive functioning. We can no longer ignore what scientists have termed "infomania" - the relentless deluge of emails, texts and social network notifications that we are bombarded with every day. Infomania has been proven to reduce IQ and hamper productivity. Crucially, it fatigues the brain.

The brain needs to switch off and reboot in order to repair and rejuvenate. It is like a muscle - a muscle that can be strengthened by mind exercises and recovery techniques, along with diet and exercise.

Neuroscientists have discovered that cognitive decline can be prevented just as mental sharpness can be regained. Here, we outline 15 ways to rejuvenate the brain and protect it from the unforgiving pace of modern life...

1 Know thyself

Are you a lark, hummingbird or owl? Larks are early risers, owls are late risers and the rarer hummingbird can adjust to both early and late starts. When you know which one you are, you know at what time of day your cognitive functioning is best. Owls should avoid early morning meetings, larks should avoid late evening meetings while hummingbirds have the ability to readily adapt to most schedules.

Read more: Fifteen ways to feel less anxious

2 Scents and sensibility

If you need an instant pep in your step, try an uplifting essential oil. Inhaling activates the hypothalamus region of the brain, the area that sends messages to other parts of the body. Try lemon to aid concentration (it's also known to alleviate anxiety). Rosemary oil is excellent for memory retention and easing brain fatigue, and peppermint oil improves focus. Apply a few drops to your pulse points (making sure it's blended with a carrier oil or as part of an oil mix) or add to a diffuser or oil burner.

3 Eliminate clutter

A study published by The Journal of Neuroscience proves that clutter limits the brain's ability to process information as "multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation". In short, the more objects you have in your workspace, the less likely you are to focus on the task in hand. Minimalise your workspace by removing anything that you don't require on a day-to-day basis. This includes digital data. Try to dedicate a day each week to deleting old emails and files. Your brain will thank you for it.

4 The big fish

Numerous studies have proven that omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oils, aid cognitive function and prevent cognitive decline. There is also evidence to suggest that they can help lower anxiety. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, as well as grass-fed beef, flaxseed oil and walnuts.

Read more: Fifteen ways to calm heartburn

5 The 90-minute rule

The brain works around an activity-rest cycle known as the ultradian rhythm. This rhythm requires the brain to take a break every 90-120 minutes. A break replenishes the brain, while working long hours without a break causes decreased productivity and a propensity to make mistakes. If you can't leave your desk every 90 minutes, at least try to close your eyes and look away from the screen at regular intervals.

6 Multitask no more

Despite various media reports to the contrary, it has been proven that multitasking is not possible. The brain can in fact only switch between tasks very quickly. What's more, a recent study proved that chronic multitaskers were less efficient at completing tasks than those who focused on one task at a time. Curiously, only one of the tasks the study participants were asked to perform involved multitasking, which suggests that those more likely to multitask are less likely to maintain focus when they work on single tasks. As the time-honoured rule goes: do one thing at a time and do it well.

7 Mix it up

Using your non-dominant hand every so often has been proven to reboot the brain by strengthening neural connections and even growing new ones. If you're right-handed, use your left hand next time you're brushing your teeth, and vice versa. It will feel strange (and you'll have to use your dominant hand to finish the task) but it gets easier over time, which is also an indication that the brain has forged new neural pathways.

Read more: Fifteen ways to manage diabetes

8 Focus on the task

Don't allocate pockets of time to the tasks you have to perform. The likelihood is that you'll put yourself under pressure and sacrifice quality in the process. It's also encourages multitasking, which reduces cognitive function (see 6). Instead focus on the task itself - you'll be surprised by how much more you can get done.

9 Sleep on it

Numerous studies have shown that a short sleep or power nap vastly improves memory retention. Participants that napped for anything from six to 45 minutes, according to various studies, showed improved memory retention when asked to perform tests before and after the nap.

10 Make a list

People who write out their goals are much more likely to achieve them. In a landmark study, students of the Harvard MBA program were asked if they had clear and concise written goals for the years ahead. Only 3pc of the group had. They interviewed the same students 10 years later and discovered that the 3pc that had made clear written plans were earning, on average, 10 times more than the 97pc that hadn't.

Make sure your goals are specific (such as ask for raise in first quarter of 2015) as opposed to abstract (get rich), and make sure you write them down.

11 Go green

Green tea is has been hailed as a powerful panacea for everything from reducing cardiovascular disease to aiding weight loss. Now researchers at the University of Basel have discovered that those that consume green tea have better working (short-term) memory.

Read more: Fancy a lie in this weekend? New study finds it could lead obesity and diabetes

12 Mindfulness matters

Using fMRI (technology that maps activity in different parts of the brain), researchers have discovered that an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation decreased activity in the amygdala (the area that controls the 'fight or flight' region of the brain) and increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex - the area that controls awareness, concentration and decision making. Food for thought for those who believe that meditation will demotivate them.

13 Mind your Bs and Cs

The body needs optimal amounts of B vitamins in order to transport oxygen to the brain. A lack of B vitamins can cause poor memory, confusion and time distortion. Elsewhere, Coenzyme Q10 is necessary after the age of 30 when the cells of the body become less efficient at producing energy. The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of other areas of the body so the supplement Coenzyme q10 is beneficial for producing energy, preventing brain fatigue and supporting cognitive function.

14 Get into nature

The great outdoors will invigorate the senses and clear your mind. If you have brain-fog, a brisk 20-minute walk will help you regain focus.

Read more: Want to live to 120? 10 ways to live longer, healthier and happier

15 Don't sweat memory moments

Remember that mild forgetfulness is a natural part of the ageing process and generally doesn't suggest Alzheimer's disease. How can you tell the difference? Leading experts in the field give this example: "Everyone will forget where they left the car keys. A person with Alzheimer's will forget the purpose of the keys." Senior moments happen to everyone after a certain age but always consult a doctor if episodes persist. And remember that dedicating time and space to worrying makes forgetfulness much more likely.

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