Exercises to improve brain function

Exercises to improve brain function

There are so many distractions today that it can cause our brain to feel tired or overwhelmed. The advancement of technology is a double-edged sword, on the one hand it can be a great tool for us to use for research, connecting with long distance family and friends, making online purchases, and so much more. On the other hand, maybe it makes our lives too easy and we stop actually using our brain to find out our own answer and just accept the ones we find on the internet from others. There is such a thing as information overload and this can cause our brain to significantly slow down where our memory, focus, and creative part of the brain suffers the most.  

So how do we get our brain to function at its optimal level? Well here are a few ways to slowly get yourself on the right path.

1Turn off alerts for social media and email on your phone, computer, and or tablet.
Use your devices for productive things that help you aim for your goals in life. Ever find yourself on your laptop about to write a paper and suddenly you convince yourself to just check out 1 or 2 shopping websites – all because of a popup or alert you received? Before you know it, several hours have passed and it’s too late to work on the assignment, so you put it off till the next day. This is a classic example of information overload. Of course it’s nice to treat ourselves but at what cost? You will find it’s more rewarding getting what you need done first and then giving yourself a chance to check out that online sale afterwards. The same should apply for checking in with your Facebook, Instagram, and or e-mail. Designate a time/schedule that you’ll allow/reward yourself with – to do these things so you’re not running after it (Read Tim Feriss, 4 Hour Work Week). Basically, don’t be a slave to these platforms or others’ responses! Set your own pace. Turning off notifications will help you achieve this first step.

2 Read or watch only educational content as much as you can.
There’s been several studies that have shown how watching drama or fictional TV shows can actually decrease brain function. Did you know that? Especially when we are young. There was a study conducted with children to see the difference between the group that watched the show Spongebob, an educational program, or were just drawing with crayons. The point of the study was to see which group could do each of the following: 1) follow instructions (for attention and memory), 2) reversing the order of numbers (problem solving), and 3) resisting treats (delaying gratification). The children watching the cartoon operated with about half of their executive function capacity than the other groups of children that drew or watched an educational program. From this study, researchers have gathered that at that young age especially, the brain is working so hard trying to process all the information in the rapidly changing cartoon (Spongebob) pictures that it gets exhausted faster; there were similar effects with other cartoons as well. (Christakis, 2011 and Sousa, 2016)
This same study also applied to adults.

3 Do puzzles or play a game instead of browsing through social media when you’re bored or have free time (if using your tablet or phone).
Play a game of Solitaire or Freecell or any kind of game that requires your brain to think, (if you’re on your phone) instead of creeping on someone’s Facebook page. Trying to solve puzzles helps improve the logical side of our brain as well as the decision making part.

Illustration by: Elena Barenbaum

4 Meditation. This is a big one. Doing a daily session in the middle of the day can help you think clearly. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts that meditation is a great healer as well. There is an app that can help you get started, Insight Timer App; the irony here is that you can connect with other insight timer users while on it. Use with caution – we don’t want you to fall back into the rabbit hole of social media! Another way to meditate without the use of this app, is you can focus on one object and try to thoroughly examine it. You can do this out loud, if it helps you to not think of other things that can drain your attention. Try this sitting up on a comfortable seat such as your bed, or couch, or even a floor pillow, and sit ‘Indian-style’ with both hands draped loosely over each knee. Then look straight ahead, find what’s in front of you and just stare at it..then begin to describe it to yourself. Keep doing it until you are not thinking of anything else but that inanimate object you’re staring at! This has helped me many times when my mind has had a lot of “noise.”

5 Drink at least 8 glasses of water each day.
The first cup should be as soon as you wake up. Water helps focus and alertness, better than coffee. Drinking 8 glasses helps improve all your bodily functions – believe it or not. Between clear skin, memory and focus, and overall digestion – this one here is probably the best tip you can take with you from reading this blog post.  

6 Put your phone on airplane mode at bedtime or keep it at least a few feet away from your bed. Keeping your phone near your bed while it’s still connected to your wireless provider or WiFi is REALLY bad for your brain. The radio frequency energy can cause slow deterioration overtime. There is an interesting article that everyone should have a read on this topic – as I cannot stress this enough. I put my phone on airplane mode at bedtime. For those of you, who work as doctors – I understand this is not an option to turn it off, then you should not keep your phone next to your bed at the very least. Download link to article is here, please give a read!

Please note: your bedtime should be at a good hour that still allows you to get your minimal 7 hours of sleep!

Photo Credit: Richmond Magazine
From Chaos to Calm

7 Keep your home/space organized; try to prevent clutter.
This seems like an obvious one as well aside from daily Meditation. However it’s true. In the journal of Psychological Science, clutter is considered stressful for the brain as you’re more likely to resort to coping mechanisms (that may necessarily be unhealthy) such as choosing a chocolate bar versus an apple. In Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, women who described their homes as “cluttered” were more depressed, fatigued, and had higher levels of the stress hormone (cortisol) than woman who felt their homes were a sanctuary or a place to retreat/rest. I mean, let’s think about it for a second…how do you feel when you come home from work or school or both to a pile of laundry, lists of things to do (such as cleaning or taking the trash out)? It’s natural to avoid all those things and go straight for a glass of wine, or a bag of chips – anything where instant gratification is met to push out that overwhelming feeling.  Over time all these things are not good on your mental, physical, and even emotional health. This has a direct effect on your productivity or ability to think at full capacity – especially if you are doing an assignment or trying to complete a project for work.

Photo Credit: A Pair and A Spare
How to Care for Indoor Plants

8 Surround yourself with green. Plants have been known to have a great effect on your mind just by being around them, looking at them, and even taking care of them! It’s a natural de-stressor. My grandfather used to say, always keep a green plant in the house for a long, fruitful, and healthy life. He, himself was a brilliant, wealthy businessman in India. He left behind his wealth that still is there till this day. He had many simple rules in life that he lived by and because of that he was extremely successful. Now I know why.

I hope you’ll find some use of this blog post! If there are any tips or interesting research you have read on how to improve brain function, leave a comment below!

Until next time!

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