Search for ways to maintain brain health and you’ll find plenty of muscle analogies–countless tips to increase your mental strength and thinking power. Yet surprisingly, your brain is an organ, with only a bit of muscle to help pump blood. And unlike a bicep curl, you can’t exactly go to the gym to engage in thought exercises.
Although it may not happen on a treadmill, does “brain training” actually work? Read on to learn more about the mind and ways you can engage in productive, healthy habits for your brain.
An Amazing Thinking Machine
At around three pounds, the human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons and 100,000 miles of blood vessels. That’s not an information highway–it’s an information universe! This incredible organ subconsciously controls many of your body’s functions. And you use it constantly. You’re always thinking and processing. Even in sleep, your brain actively sorts through the day’s events. So, it’s no surprise this relatively small organ accounts for 20 percent of your body’s total energy output.
Your brain is divided into regions which, together, control your body and how you experience and interact with the world. It’s remarkable. And these 41 facts about your brain are a great way to start learning more.
Achieving Brain Gains
You may have noticed online cognitive training ads blowing up your social feed lately. Many claim brain health benefits like faster reading speed and comprehension, better hand-eye coordination, emotional control, and “reversing” age-related conditions such as dementia. Lumosity, one such company, was fined $2 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for making such claims that they couldn’t back with verified studies.
Benefits of brain training games may be murky, but there is solid science to show it’s worth flexing those thinking skills. The mind is adaptable. It uses neural plasticity to pick up on new information quickly. Your nervous system reacts to new experiences by literally rewiring circuits and strengthening synaptic connections between neurons to adapt to change.
So, yes, focusing on brain health–like bicep curls–is worth pursuing.
7 Healthy Habits for Your Brain
Eating wholesome meals, managing stress, and taking care of your overall well-being all lend to better overall health. From action-driven activities to lifelong holistic choices, here’s a list of seven ways to maintain a healthy mind.
An extended version of these tips can be found on What’s Up, USANA? 60 Days To a Smarter You: 10 Tips to Optimize Mental Health.
Reach for wholesome.
Whole foods provide a variety of beneficial nutrients often stripped from processed goods. Meals made from scratch are typically more filling, full of rich flavors, less expensive, and provide much-needed fiber. Keep these cognitive superfoods in mind on your next trip to the grocery store for healthier home cooking.
Elevate your thinking.
Sometimes healthy eating is compromised, or you may miss out on beneficial nutrients by avoiding certain foods. Vegans, for example, can utilize plant-based shakes for their daily fill of protein. Consider adding a nootropic or fish oil supplement to your daily intake for additional brain benefits.
Whether methodically filling in a sudoku sheet or engaging in friendly competition over a checkerboard, games and puzzles engage your brain and flex the thinking organ in a fun way. Playing with other people is a win-win, since having a strong social circle is a predictor of overall health and well-being.
Sweat it out.
Physical exercise reduces stress, improves blood flow, aids in restful sleep, and provides many other whole-body benefits. Working out also protects the brain, supporting memory and thinking skills. Make time to move every day–take the stairs or jog around the block during lunch on busy days.
Acquire new skills.
Keeping your mind active and engaged in meaningful activity is your brain’s equivalent of curling a dumbbell. It increases the activity and size of brain structures responsible for learning, memory, emotion, and spatial memory.
Pick up a new language with Duolingo. Take piano lessons at a local music shop. Watch free photography tutorials on YouTube. Channel your inner Bob Ross with a beginner’s paint set–whatever you choose to learn, your brain wins.
A clear mind is a healthy mind. But life happens, and sometimes too much mental clutter or stress makes it difficult to engage in any of these tips to optimize mental health. Engage in breathing exercises, meditate, write in a mood journal, call a close friend, volunteer at a local charity, or read a good book to destress and open your mind to new growth.
Savor plenty of sleep.
Sleep is the foundation of good health, and it’s your brain’s chance to process the day as you rest and reset for the day ahead.
A Smart Start
Your brain is an amazing organ capable of reworking itself to adapt to changing environments. And though quick-fixes to raise IQ may not work, long-term lifestyle adjustments, proper nutrition, and consistent mental challenges are all healthy habits for your brain. Make any of the above tips part of your daily routine with these neat ways to bio-hack your habits so they stick.
Good luck in your brain health journey, and cheers to a smarter tomorrow!
Written by Jake Wolford
Jake is a Utah-based lifestyle writer for USANA Health Sciences. He understands the challenge of balancing real life with wellness and wants the best for you, wherever you’re at. He promotes healthy living habits and puts nutrition, wellness, and exercise advice to practice every day before blogging about it.