Coach’s Challenge for August 22, 2005

Good day, team,

The coach’s challenge this week is about boosting your mental faculties. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But the article “11 Steps to a Better Brain” (see link below) offers simple suggestions on how to do it. The article is rather lengthy, so here is a brief synopsis:

It doesn’t matter how brainy you are or how much education you’ve had — you can still improve and expand your mind. Boosting your mental faculties doesn’t have to mean studying hard or becoming a reclusive bookworm. There are lots of tricks, techniques and habits as well as changes in your lifestyle, diet and behavior that can help you flex your gray matter and get the best out of your brain cells.

Here are some of the 11 suggestions made in the article:

1. Food for thought: You are what you eat, so what is the ultimate mastermind diet? First, go to the top of the class by eating breakfast. The brain is best fueled by a steady flow of glucose. High-protein diets seem to work best in fueling your thought process. The authors suggest eating eggs, salads, yogurt, fish and berries. Stay away from junk food. It tends to dull our minds and put us to sleep!

2. The Mozart Effect: Music may tune up your thinking. Although the theory that playing Mozart improves a person’s mental capacity is still being tested, there’s no doubt that learning music increases our learning capacity. Six-year-old children who were given music lessons, as opposed to drama lessons or no extra instruction, got a two to three point boost in IQ scores.

3. Gainful Employment: Put your mind to work. Working our brains daily improves our working memory (the brain’s short-term information storage system). The more we use it, the less prone we are to losing it. Studies have shown that the neural systems underlying working memory may grow in response to training. Try doing some working memory exercises like calculating 73 – 6 + 7. See if you feel a little sharper in your ability to figure out problems after awhile.

4. Memory Marvels: Experimenting with how you memorize things is a good way to figure out what works for your mind. Techniques to enhance our memory keep it sharp and help to increase its capacity. It’s also true that we remember highly emotional moments better. Try attaching emotional meaning to things you’re trying to remember. Other tricks, like always putting your car keys in the same place, writing things down to get them off your mind, or just deciding to pay attention, can make a big difference in how much information you retain. And if names are your downfall, try making some mental or emotional associations.

5. Sleep On It: Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Skimping on sleep does awful things to your brain. Planning, problem-solving, learning, concentration, working memory and alertness all suffer when we’re too tired. If you’ve been awake for 21 hours, your mental power is equivalent to that of someone who is legally drunk. During sleep, your brain processes new memories. For example, if you’re learning a new video game, instead of staying up till the wee hours to practice, you’d be better off playing for a few hours and then sleeping on it. Your brain will do the work of reactivating the circuits, rehearsing the activities and then storing them so you actually learn more than you would have if you’d continued playing. Even taking a nap after training can help.

6. Body and Mind: Physical exercise can boost brain as well as brawn. Simply walking sedately for half an hour three times a week can improve abilities such as learning, concentration and abstract reasoning by 15 percent. Exercise becomes even more important as we get older. Breathing is an important aspect of re-energizing the brain. Drawing more oxygen into the body fuels not only the lungs but also the brain.

7. Keep it Working: Making your brain work is one of the best ways to keep it sharp. Anything that requires thinking through something or creating something gives the brain a workout. Knitting, doing crossword puzzles and playing word games, figuring out math problems, taking something apart and putting it back together, drawing and painting, or editing all require the brain to work. Often when old people are interviewed and asked, “At 104 years of age, what’s been your secret for staying alive?” they answer, “Well, I do the crossword puzzle every day.”

These are just some of the wonderful suggestions you’ll find in this article. Your challenge this week is to experiment with some of them to improve your brain power.

Here’s the link to the entire article: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg18625011.900.

Have a great week!

Kathleen

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