How to Become Sharp and Stay Sharp

ideas, focus

3 factors influencing mental clarity

Have you got so-called ‘Brain Fog’, meaning you can’t think clearly? Are you strained trying to keep pace when the amount of new knowledge in the world is doubling almost annually from the unrelenting increase of computerization? Well, learn how to surf the waves of change by increasing your brain power.

1. Exercise, exercise, exercise

Surprisingly, physical aerobic exercise provides the best general benefits in terms of both protecting and enhancing the brain. Cardio workouts increase vascular circulation and also increase brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates the growth of new nerve cells in key regions such as the hippocampus. This not only enhances learning, but memory as well. Furthermore, did you know that this type of exercise additionally increases the secretion of endorphins and other neurotransmitters which improve mood? Sometimes they are even better than anti-depressant medications!

2. Food is the answer

Essentially, we are what we eat. The ‘Mediterranean-style’ diet is broadly touted as the healthiest for the heart, but did you know that it is also the best diet for the brain? This is because it’s composed of unprocessed vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and non-saturated oils, (instead of simple carbs and saturated fats). And these nutrients are especially rich in protective antioxidants and enhancing phytochemicals.

blueberries, healthy brain, diet

Specific types of foods can also enhance brain functioning. For example, proteins increase the stimulating neurotransmitters, norepinephrine & dopamine, and complex carbohydrates increase the sedating neurotransmitter – serotonin. So, by selectively eating either proteins or carbohydrates, you could temporarily modify your desired levels of alertness, or relaxation. If you need a quick, temporary ‘mental boost’, consider a hit of sugar. It’s a simple carbohydrate and the brain’s basic fuel. A modest amount on occasion could provide a temporary brain boost within about 30 minutes for enhancing learning & memory. Chocolate or sodas, which contain both sugar and caffeine, provide an even quicker and stronger temporary boost for cognitive functioning. Although in the long term, too much sugar is actually harmful to both heart & brain and so not recommended as a regular practice.

3. Stress can be to blame

Brain science explains why our intelligence is often ‘dumbed down’ when we’re over-stressed. Research has revealed that uncertainty and fear can stimulate the relatively primitive amygdala to ‘hijack’ the more highly evolved pre-frontal cortex. This in turn, can cause us to behave inappropriately with a less intelligent and more emotionally reflexive ‘fight or flight’ manner. Unfortunately, even worse, if the distress is long-term, then it also prolongs the elevation of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause the brain to physically shrink and decrease intelligence.

The solution –‘re-wire’ your brain

Fortunately, leading-edge research in neuroplasticity with functional brain imaging, (fMRI), has revealed that our thoughts can actually re-wire our brains. For example, this research has discovered that the practice of meditation aside from helping us to relax also induces neuroplastic changes in the brain by creating both new nerve cells and their inter-connections. It particularly enhances the pre-frontal cortex (the ‘executive’ part of the brain which specializes in abstract thinking, planning & decision making) and it also simultaneously subdues the amygdala (a lower & more primitive area of the brain which controls our reactions to emotions and stress).

neural connections, concentration

The new field of ‘brain-based coaching’ can also teach us how to enable the pre-frontal cortex to come back online and override the amygdala when overly stressed and thereby enhance calmness, clarity & wisdom.  For example, reframing the ‘self-talk’ words in your mind from “I am angry” to alternatively – “I feel angry”, establishes some emotional detachment from the perspective of an ‘observer’. This type of modified emotional introspection can actually change the amount of blood flow, and consequently activation level of the more desirable pre-frontal cortex (relative to the primitive amygdala).

When it comes to sustaining optimal brain functioning, the operative reality is – use it, or lose it. The good news is that novel stimulation and learning cause the brain to grow by developing new brain cells and connections between them. So, challenge yourself to do new things, and in new ways, to strengthen your ‘mental muscle’. (For example, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, chess, learning a new language or musical instrument, exotic travel, using your non-dominant hand for various tasks, etc.).

For additional information on Cognitive Enhancers check out my popular YouTube video, Ramp Up Your Brain Power©

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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