Aashna Ahuja , NDTV, Modified: May 27, 2016 10:53 IST
Can’t locate your car in the parking lot? Or recall the movie you saw last Sunday? Having trouble remembering where you left your keys? Or the name of that new restaurant you went to? Feeling scatterbrained? You’re not alone. As we get older, our brains become more “noisy”, and are not as good at registering new information.
For years, scientists believed that we were stuck with the brain we were born with. Enter: Neuroplasticity. A theory that proves our brains have the ability to change. The more you use and test your brain, the better it will perform. So stop using a meager 5-10% of your brain and train it to capture information and recall it swiftly.
Here are 14 different ways to increase your brainpower. So if you want to find your car in that crowded parking lot or ace your next exam, scroll down.
1. Mind Games
Your brain is a muscle. You need to exercise it regularly. Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, suggests playing scrabble and sudoku to sharpen your mind. According to Cynthia Green, PhD, Author of Brainpower Game Plan, you must time yourself while working a crossword or Sudoku to boost processing speed, attention and positive intellectual engagement. People who are cognitively active have better memory as they age. So quiz yourself, flex your brain and improve your memory power.
Dr Ashutosh Gautam, Clinical Operations and Coordination Manager at Baidyanath says, “Ayurvedic herbs such as Ashwagandha, Brahmi and Shankhapushpi help improve the brain’s memory functions like attention and concentration, and prevent nerve cell damage”.
The next time you need to train your brain, consider using the practice of aromatherapy to increase your productivity. “Aromatherapy works wonders, and some particular essential oils help sharpen the brain”, adds Dr. Ashutosh Gautam. You can try rosemary for mental clarity and alertness, or peppermint/ basil oil to reduce mental fatigue and enhance your mind’s innate ability to focus. You can use diffusers to aerate the oil or directly apply some essential oils to the skin to reap their benefits.
Did you know that every time you exercise, you create new brain cells? Any form of exercise increases your heart rate, which gets blood flowing to your brain, thus keeping your memory sharp. For at least 30-45 minutes a day, run, swim, dance or cycle as it benefits your brain health, cognition and even helps enlarge the hippocampus i.e. the catalyst for long term memory in the brain. If that isn’t reason enough to get you off the couch, who knows what is? Just take a 10-15 minute walk around the block or do a few jumping jacks to reboot your brain in case you don’t have time to squeeze in a full workout.
5. Quit Multitasking
Can’t find your car keys? It’s probably because you weren’t paying attention when you put them down. As it turns out, the brain does not actually multitask. It switches focus from one thing to the other. So when you’re juggling too many things, you’re bound to forget. The brain needs about eight seconds to process a piece of information to your memory. So if you’re talking on the phone and carrying your groceries at the same time, and then you put down your keys, you’re unlikely to remember where you left them. Make it a point to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s crucial. Studies suggest that saying “I left my keys on the cabinet” out loud actually helps the brain process it.
According to a study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, researchers measured the brains of 16 people who had never meditated before, and then measured their brains again after the group had completed an eight-week meditation program. During that period, the group spent an average of 27 minutes a day practising mindful meditation. Tests done on the group after the program found that there was an increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory, and even in other brain structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. There was also a reduction in size of the amygdala, the part of the brain which controls anxiety and stress. So not only does meditation reduce your stress levels, it can also improve your brain power and memory. Mindful meditation delays cognitive decline and prevents neurodegenerative diseases like Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
7. Do Something New
When you challenge your brain and experience something ‘new’, it stimulates your brain. So don’t fall into a rut following your same old routine. Take a different route to work, read a section of the newspaper you usually skip, try a different recipe for dinner, learn a new language, and do things out of the ordinary. Restructuring your brain helps create new neural pathways which increases your brainpower.
8. Amp Up Your Memory
How often do we curse our own memory, and yet do nothing about it? Start using mnemonic devices to help you memorise in an easier format – words, lists, concepts, et al. Mnemonics include acronyms, for example: CART can be carrots, apples, raspberries and tomatoes, which can be used to remember your grocery list or acrostics. For example: How we remembered the nine planets during childhood, “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets”. If you need to remember a name, use rhymes and get creative like: “Mary loves cherry” or “Simon is a fireman”.
I don’t remember the day I left my house for an exam without my grandmother saying to me: “Cool, calm and confident – repeat after me”. Being positive really goes a long way, and practicing affirmations regularly helps boost your brainpower. For example, you can start your day by saying: “I wake up today with clarity in my mind. I have a perfect memory. Focusing comes naturally to me. My mind is brilliant and I can concentrate easily.” You can try any of these affirmations or create your own unique combination based on your needs. But to establish a profound communication with the universe, you need to say it with conviction, say it in your own unique voice and make it happen in the real world.
Relax to remember. Yes, the other way around. Your mind is always racing, stealing your peaceful sleep every night, making you so anxious that your brain simply can’t take in new information (let alone remember it). “Stress contributes to memory loss and the destruction of brain cells”, says Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Sukhda Hospital. To reduce stress, you can simply laugh out loud, vent on paper to declutter your mind, express gratitude for all the things in your life that are going right or visualise a perfect scenario of how you want your life to be. That’s right, fake it till you make it.
11. Get Organized
If your house is in a mess, then you’re more likely to forget things. To declutter your mind, first declutter your home. Jot down tasks, note down appointments, set aside a particular place to drop down your keys, and limit distractions. Physically writing down new information actually helps reinforce it. I, myself, live by to-do lists. It’s important to check off the items once you’ve completed them to keep them up-to-date.
“Poor sleep takes a toll on everything, especially your memory. Sleep helps your brain consolidate and organise information”, says Dr. Adarsh Kumar, Internal Medicine, National Heart Institute. Got an exam in the morning? Don’t stay up cramming until the sun comes up (like I used to), and hit the sheets. Sleep is a key time for the brain to solidify connection between neurons, thus helping us remember and learn better. How much or how little of sleep you need is an individual matter; go by what your body and mind tell you. Strive for quality sleep to actually recharge and rejuvenate the mind, improving both short-term and long-term mental prowess. If you have trouble sleeping fast, click here.
13. Eat Well
Fact: The brain is an energy hungry organ, which comprises 2% of your body’s weight, but gobbles up more than 20% of your daily energy intake. So you need to eat throughout the day to optimise brain power (not too much, not too little) and drink at least eight glasses of water since dehydration can lead to memory loss and confusion. Choose green leafy vegetables, low-fat protein sources like fish, whole grains, mushrooms, magnesium-rich nuts, seeds, eggs, antioxidant-rich berries, avocados and tomatoes. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that blueberries’ wealth of anthocyanins (the antioxidants that create the blue hue) foster neuron-to-neuron communication in the brain. “Fish oil contains DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, which helps improve your brain power by encouraging the growth of neurons”, says Dr. Supriya Bali, Internal Medicine, Max Hospitals.
Yoga is a holistic package that helps in clearing the mind and making you feel relaxed and peaceful. Yoga asanas such as Sarvangasana and Bhujangasana boosts memory power by increasing blood supply to our brain, Paschimottanasana promotes brain activities significantly, Padmasana boosts brain power, Padahastasana sharpens your memory skills, and Halasana improves overall brain health.