Published on: December 5, 2015
by Susan Steinbrecher for Entrepreneur:
From thought patterns to emotions, every facet of human expression dwells within the extraordinary capacity of our gray-and-white matter. How does this mysterious three-pound organ called the brain hold such sway over the matters of life, death, consciousness, perception, sleep and so much more?
And, does this brain we were born with achieve its optimal state, then fail, little by little, and inevitably, as each year passes?
Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, addressed these questions in an interview I held with her for my book Kensho: A Modern Awakening a few years back. I recently caught up with her again and learned even more about one of my passions: preserving and improving the brain’s capacity.
Chapman is quick to point out that our life expectancy is longer than ever before. Yet, while we take steps to look after our physical health, we rarely pay enough attention to maintaining brain health. The good news, she believes, is that there is hope for us all: When you develop new interests, pursue hobbies or perform specific brain exercises, you enhance your brain’s ability to become more proficient, and at the same time, expand memory.
The science of neuroplasticity confirms this rule. Simply put, you have considerable control over your own brain function, since much depends on what you experience, and how you use your brain.
“Maintaining productivity as an effective decision-maker, innovator, strategist and planner necessitates continued development and sharpening to take advantage of the brain’s vast capacities,” Chapman said. However: “Neglecting your cognitive health and allowing your brain to lose its mental edge with routine [life activities] rather than innovative thinking has unnecessary and deleterious economic, social and personal ramifications.
“The longer we are living,” Chapman continued, “the more competitive the marketplace becomes, the more complex our social fabric grows, the more imperative it becomes that we leverage our most precious resource, our brain.”
In our always-on connected society, more and more people express concerns about feeling mentally exhausted, and experience memory lag and information overload. Many of us may therefore conclude that we need a vacation or some downtime, when the actual remedy needed may be a boost in brain health.
Signs that you need to take a closer look at your brain health, according to Chapman’s research, include a recurring feeling of mental fatigue or low mental energy, increased instances of forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, the feeling that you’re overwhelmed by information and the inability to plan or create innovative solutions.
Often, these symptoms are reversible. What can help here, Chapman says, is to reduce toxic “brain habits” and make the conscious decision to adopt a more brain-fit lifestyle. (However, she adds, if you or a loved one exhibits changes in memory noticeable to others, or periodic bouts of a lack of insight or failure to pay bills on time, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.) Here are the six brain-boosting habits Chapman recommends:
1. Limit multitasking.
Multitasking diminishes mental productivity, elevates brain fatigue and increases stress.
2. Get an adequate amount of sleep.
Make sure you regularly get seven-to-eight hours of sleep. Information is consolidated in the brain at a deeper level of understanding during sleep.
3. Commit to an exercise routine.
Get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week, to improve memory and increase attention and concentration and brain blood flow in the brain-memory area.
4. Construct bottom-line messages.
Summarize your task-assignment reading, training seminars, articles, movies you see or books read. Abstracting novel ideas, versus remembering a litany of facts, builds a brain with an enhanced long-term memory for global ideas and the ability to retrieve fundamental facts.
5. Laser-focus on important tasks.
Block out information that is relatively unimportant. Limiting the intake of information is a key brain function associated with brain health.
6. Stay motivated.
A motivated brain builds faster and more robust neural connections. Identify your passions and learn more about them.
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