Upgrade Your Brain

It’s never too late to improve your mental capacity – here’s how you can!

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It’s never too late to improve your mental capacity – here’s how you can!

<b>Photo:</b> 123RF.COM
<b>Photo:</b> 123RF.COM

Our brain is like a muscle – the more we stretch and use it, the stronger it becomes and the better it performs. “Our brain has the ability to change – we can always upgrade it,” says Dr Jenny Brockis, a medical practitioner and author of Future Brain. “When you service the engine of a car it drives so much better, and your brain is exactly the same.”

Here, Dr Brockis reveals some simple ways we can boost our brain efficiency to tackle our daily tasks.

Fat is actually good for you

The brain is 60 percent fat and needs healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids to keep its cell membranes flexible.

Studies show that a lack of omega-3s means poorer memory and problem-solving skills. Eating poor quality fats, such as those in cakes and biscuits, causes cells to have a stiffer membrane, reducing their function.

Do This: Eat omega-3s in salmon, sardines and olive oil. Other good sources are flaxseeds, walnuts and avocados.

Working out makes brain fertiliser

Exercise raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain, which provides it with oxygen and nutrients. Exercise also helps release brain-derived neurotrophic factor-brain ‘fertiliser’, stimulating the production of new cells.

Do This: Any exercise that leaves you out of breath, or makes you huff and puff – aim for five 30-minute sessions a week.

You can detox your brain

Waste products build up in the brain as it works, and when we sleep it flushes out waste 10 times faster than when we’re awake. Also, during sleep your brain regulates information and forms longer-term memories and forgets any irrelevant bits of information. 

Do This: Aim for seven to eight hours’ of sleep each night. Avoid smartphones, laptops and tablets that emit blue light two hours before sleep.

It’s vital to keep learning

To maintain plasticity – the brain’s ability to form new connections between cells – you need to stretch your brain. We increase plasticity by learning something new, different and hard.

Do This: Stretch your mental muscle by tackling a new language, learning to play a musical instrument, or learning three new words and their meaning each day.

Multi-tasking is not such a good idea

Doing more than one thing at once reduces performance and productivity by up to 40 percent. If we do two things at the same time, our brain hemispheres split our attention between the tasks. This gives the illusion that we’re multi-tasking, when we’re just giving half our attention to each task.

Do This: Do one thing at a time, give it your undivided attention, and do it well. If you really must do more than one task, limit it to a maximum of two tasks in order to maintain efficiency and attention.

An open mind is a flexible one

Work on a can-do attitude to foster brain agility. If you have a fixed mindset, you don’t try new things because you’re afraid of failure. The opposite is an attitude that believes when you put effort in, you’ll get better and achieve.

Do This: Be aware of times when you think, “I can’t.” Having a can-do attitude helps maintain brain plasticity, so you can continue to process new information.

Don’t be afraid of change

We establish ways of doing things that we’re comfortable with, and the brain is programmed to see change as a threat. it then has to work hard to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation.

Do This: Look for reasons why change is beneficial. It brings about a sense of achievement and confidence, and it also creates mental flexibility, so you can handle ongoing change better.

Daydreaming has a special purpose

Where do you come up with your best ideas? is it when you wake up? During an exercise session? Creativity can be fostered in the right environment – one that encourages inward reflection and an uncoupling from our focused attention.

Do This: Allow your mind to wander. If an idea comes up, jot it down somewhere. Sometimes the best ideas come when we allow our brain access to the subconscious, and make links between our memory bank and new things.