10 ways to (re) train your brain

10 ways to (re) train your brain

Discoveries by neuroscientists in the past two decades suggest we can play a more active role in developing our brain’s performance than originally thought. These tips show you how to wake up – and shake up – your brain…

How can the human mind – consciousness, the self, free will, emotion, and all the rest – completely depend on a bulbous and ugly assemblage of squishy wet parts? Brain scientists have long understood that the ‘spiking of neurons’ has a lot to do with who we are (and how we think, feel and act). But new information – thanks to developments in brain imaging technologies – on neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt to new stimuli), neurogenesis (the brain’s ability to rejuvenate itself) and brain reorganisation (its capacity, after injury, to delegate some functions to undamaged areas) is teaching us more all the time. For example...

  • Though some of the most intense learning (and brain changes) occur in the womb and during infancy, the brain continues to alter and change throughout adulthood.
  • Repeated activity (whether thought, feeling or action) strengthens neural circuits associated with that activity. • Through repeated activity of a skill, we enable ‘neural pruning’.
  • It’s thought that the brain can hold between four and ten thoughts at a time.
  • Rarely used networks tend to be redirected to strengthen frequently used networks.
  • Even the adult brain can grow new neurons and make new connections.
  • Brain changes can be both adaptive and maladaptive. Bad skills or habits will take over if they are constantly practised at the expense of good skills or habits.

1. Get Brain Smart How are you spending your time and brainpower? Are you using your grey matter in ways that count? Are you exercising it to get the results you require and/or desire? We can make conscious decisions about the information, skills and techniques we choose to train our brain in.

2. Relish a challenge. Your brain would love to be lazy so it’s up to you to keep it on its toes. The more you challenge your brain, the more refined its general functioning will be.

3. Keep Learning You are limited only by what you give your brain to work with! The more you ask it to do, the more cortical space it sets up to handle new tasks…

4. Focus on focusing Decline in memory, concentration and attention span are often the first noticeable signs of a decline in the sharpness of our brains, whether due to ageing, stress or certain mental health conditions (like anxiety). Anything that requires intense focus will help stimulate those parts of the brain such as crosswords, Sudoku, mental calculations, bridge, chess or any general activities that require a high level of focus.


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5. Lead a multidimensional life Opt for activities that stimulate different areas of the brain at the same time. For example, spend your time and money on doing (rather than buying) things. The value of an object generally fades over time – whereas the value of an activity leads to different types of stimulation for your brain at once – and creates anticipation, which is also good for your brain.

6. Respect your stress threshold Although mild stress can be a motivator, chronic stress leads to increased (or decreased) tonic firing in certain areas of your brain, creating an imbalance in the brain’s electrical and chemical synergy. Chronic stress may also kill brain cells. Brain studies of stress and anxiety disorders suggest that brain volumes may be reduced and white matter damaged, affecting the effectiveness of communication between cells and their functioning…

7. Join the pack One of the most overlooked factors in a healthy brain is social interaction. Being sociable is associated with an up to 60% decrease in the likelihood of dementia, probably because it promotes inflammation-fighting chemicals in the brain and helps prevent a build-up of stress hormones.

8. Get physical Exercise is one of the most effective ways to grow new brain cells. Research suggests that exercise increases the volume of grey matter and combats inflammation. Regular, challenging, cardiovascular exercise, like walking and cycling, also strengthens the arteries that supply the brain with oxygen.

9. Vitamin D3 New studies suggest that vitamin D3 could have a major impact in preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Although we get D3 from sunlight (when large areas of the body are exposed) and in fish to a lesser extent, it seems that just about everyone is lacking it. A supplement of a minimum of 5000iu a day is recommended.

10. Get some rest Sufficient, good, quality sleep is essential to improving your mental functioning. Inadequate sleep leads to reduced functioning of the prefrontal cortex and as a result, the brain focuses on the essentials only. Although we may think we can skimp on sleep or adapt to less of it, doing so can mean we miss out on the crucial stages of the sleep cycle in which certain neurons regenerate and new information or skills learnt are stored.

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