Get Your Brain Working Better
(Redbook) Exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and eating a balanced diet are your first steps to a stronger, healthier mind. For extra credit, squeeze in these easy tasks as often as you can:
Take a new route to work
“The brain works largely out of habit,” says Ian Robertson, Ph.D., distinguished scientist at the Center for Brain-Health at the University of Texas, Dallas, and author of The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper. “When you do something unfamiliar, your brain fires off neurotransmitters that improve communication between the different regions in the brain.” Checked this one off your list? Find other ways to disrupt your routine: by brushing your hair with your left hand, for example.
Drink more milk
Calcium keeps your brain cells healthy, and there’s perhaps no better source than a glass of milk. One study found that subjects who’d recently had milk also had higher levels of an antioxidant called glutathione, which prevents cellular damage in the brain. Try to work in three 8-ounce servings a day skim and low-fat milk are just fine. If that’s too much, you can also get calcium from dark leafy greens, cheese, and yogurt.
Throw a tennis ball against a wall and catch it with one hand or bounce it on a racket to give the circuits that connect your eyes, hands, and brain a good workout. Any throwing and catching will don, and the smaller the ball, the greater the challenge.
Write things down
Use an old-fashioned pencil and you’ll remember your grocery list or a new work more easily than if you had typed it. It helps you process the information: One study found that students who used a laptop in class mindlessly transcribed, while pen and paper note takers wrote down only what was important.
Snack on seeds
Both pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain magnesium, and most of us fall short of the 400 mg per day that’s recommended for better health, says Drew Ramsey, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. Magnesium fuels brain growth and soothes the nervous system, keeping you calm.
Swap in whole-grain bread
It’s an excellent source of zinc, which helps the olfactory part of the brain process smells and flavors, two senses that tend to decline as you grow older.
Read a novel
Research shows that fiction fosters emotional intelligence, helping you empathize with others, the way you might with characters. It’s never too late to be a better person with an amazing brain.
Don’t Drive Sleepy
Buckle up: There’s rough news ahead. Drivers who get only four to five hours of sleep before climbing behind the wheel are four times more likely to crash than people who sleep seven hours or more making them as dangerous on the roads as someone who’s drunk. Worse, “Losing just one to two hours a night for several days can put you in the same category,” says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. No matter how much you have on your plate, “getting your rest is not selfish,” he says. And if you can’t? Bum a ride you might even get to nap.