I love the topic of the brain and learning more about it.  You can take this subject further with a fantastic book I’ve recommended called, The Brain That Changes Itself.  Today, I welcome a new guest poster, Melissa, on one of my favorite topics, training the brain!  I hope you find some good tips here and please add your own in the comments.

Years ago, it was believed that the human brain only declined in ability as we aged. Today, however, studies are showing that this isn’t true, and that there are a number of things we can do to exercise and strengthen our brain power long after we’ve finished our school years.

Our brains contain a neural network that relays information to our body parts through electrical and chemical signals. These signals are what keep our bodies functioning normally. Every action and thought (from smelling your mom’s delicious pot roast to crying after watching an especially devastating TV drama) is controlled by this system of neurons.

Your brain’s neural network begins its life when you are in the womb by growing at a rate of 15 million neurons per hour. When you are first born, your brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons that are capable of growing and adapting to your new environment. From this moment until about age four or five, your nervous system is primed and ready to help you learn all the basic functions of life; walking and running, feeding yourself, speaking a language, tying your shoes, reading and writing etc.

Up until your teenage years, there are “windows” open in your neural network that allow you to easily learn new skills; such as math, a new language or sport or playing a musical instrument. And although these windows become smaller as we age, scientists say that we can keep learning new skills with ease throughout life by following these ten tips.

1. Stop the stress

Scientists are finding more evidence that shows stress can actually kill brain cells. If you find yourself frequently stressed out about everything, it’s time to take a deep breath and calm down. The hormones that are triggered by stress are actually only intended for short-term emergency situations and can actually damage your brain if constantly released during the day.

2. Get enough sleep

Neuroscientists are now starting to believe that sleep is not just for resting the body but for resting the brain, as well. Their studies show that sleep helps our brains consolidate the memories and information from the day before into a more permanent form. According to Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, any amount of sleep deprivation will reduce brain performance. Mahowald says that “one complete night of sleep deprivation is as impairing in simulated driving tests as a legally intoxicating blood-alcohol level.” How much sleep is enough sleep? Most doctors say we need an average of seven to eight hours of complete sleep every night.

3. Practice brain exercises

Just as your body improves in function with regular exercise, your brain also needs regular exercise to stay strong and healthy. You have probably heard the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is very true for your brain. One way to exercise your brain is by simply learning new skills on a regular basis. For example, try a new recipe at least once a week, try a new class at your gym at least once a month and pick a craft, musical instrument or language to learn over the course of a year or two. There are also hundreds of websites devoted to exercising your brain through memory, focus, problem-solving, speed and spatial reasoning games.

4. Use your non-dominant hand

Those who are naturally ambidextrous, as described on ultrasoundtechonline.com,  can skip to the next tip, but for those of us with dominant hands (right-handed or left-handed), try using your non-dominant hand to do basic tasks at least a few times a day. For example, if you are right-handed, try brushing your teeth, eating, dialing phone numbers and locking and unlocking your door with your left hand. This helps to “wake up” a different part of your brain.

5. Break free from monotony

To keep your brain stimulated every day, look for new ways to do old things. Learn a new route to work, upgrade your email account to the new version, read books for entertainment instead of watching TV (or vice versa), etc.

6. Never skip breakfast

There’s a reason breakfast is called breakfast. When you wake up in the morning, your body has generally been fasting for ten or more hours. We learn in basic biology that humans need food for energy, and your brain needs energy to function at its best. If you skip breakfast, you are denying your body and your brain the energy that they need to get through the day. For peak brain performance, never skip breakfast, and follow a healthy diet that includes a daily multivitamin.

7. Get moving

When bad things happen, we get sad, but sometimes we can feel sad or depressed for what seems like no reason. Depression can negatively affect brain function, especially memory. One way to combat depression is through daily physical exercise. Whether it’s a quick walk around the neighborhood or an hour workout in the gym, exercise helps release feel-good chemicals in our brains to alleviate the effects of depression and stimulate our brains.

8. Memorize phone numbers

Remember the days when you kept your close family members’ and friends’ phone numbers locked in your memory? Today, we all rely on our cell phone contact list to keep that information for us. To test your memory skills, (and save you from a potential phone-number-loss emergency) try memorizing at least ten of your closest relatives’ and friends’ phone numbers.

9. Use cash instead of a debit card

By using cash to pay for everyday purchases, you are forced to count. It may sound ridiculous, but you would be surprised just how easily basic math skills can be forgotten when not used regularly.

10. Dig through a memory box

To help jog your memory, try looking through old photographs and keepsakes. These items will more than likely help you remember important people and events in your life that would have otherwise gone forgotten.

A freelance writer and blogger, Melissa Miller specializes in writing about the education field. If you’re considering pursuing an associate degree online, Melissa’s many posts on the subject can help light the way. Email her at melissamiller831@gmail.com with any feedback.

Resources: http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html#journey

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