There are many ways to sharpen the brain and keep it finely honed – methods that have consistently proven time again through research to be effective. But let’s face it… in the rapid pace of life that we live in, it can be difficult to fit one or two of these activities in. Given the limited commodity of time, we all want the biggest bang for our buck. What it comes down to is how we can combine these activities so we can get the most out of the time we spend.
So what are some ways we can maximise our brain training time?
Take a Hike
Hiking is a great activity for boosting brain power because:
And we know why physical activity is one of the best ways to improve brain health and cognitive function:
- it improves circulation
- it jump starts brain growth
- it improves memory
- it boosts decision making skills
- it lengthens attention span
- it improves multi-tasking and planning
- Sports and Physical Activity are Important for Brain Development and Academic Performance
- If You Only Do One Thing for Your Brain, it Should be This
2. Hiking connects us with nature
Admittedly, the link between nature and enhanced cognitive performance is still under scrutiny, but the early findings have demonstrated some promise that warrant further investigation, such as:
Bratman, Hamilton and Daily – The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health – also confirm as much:
We have reviewed many studies that demonstrate impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. These effects have been shown to occur in measures of memory, attention, concentration, impulse inhibition, and mood. The studies considered here span many of the major areas of examination within contemporary psychology and, taken together, constitute a strong foundation for an emerging field of inquiry.
Even if we can’t claim the cognitive benefits of nature with a certainty, what is definitely clear is that nature is good for our emotional well-being and we all know that emotional well-being impacts work performance and academic achievement. If you extrapolate this further – a happy brain functions better. Bottom line: nature is good for the brain.
- Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social, and school wellbeing, on average, have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school, both concurrently and in later years.
- Human emotions are real and they impact a wide range of material business metrics, from a company’s share price, to the value of its brand, through to its customer service rating.
3. Hiking frees the mind
Since hiking is a physical activity that does not require too much focused attention, it frees your mind for further mental exercise. The next time you go for a hike, try putting your walk on steroids with a little Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness meditation, like other forms of meditation, offer numerous benefits to the mind and body. These are the benefits for your brain:
- Meditation can change the brain’s grey matter which is a major part of the central nervous system associated with processing information and providing nutrients and energy to your brain cells.
- Meditation Improves Learning and Memory Processes
- Mindfulness Training Can Improve Working Memory, Reading Comprehension, and Task Focus
Plaster Your Walls with Nature
Even though the jury is still out on just how effective nature exposure can be on brain cognition, this one’s just too easy to give it a miss…
If simply looking at nature can improve brain function – and we’re talking pictures of nature, not even the real stuff – then all we really need are some pictures of nature plastered on the walls where we can gaze at them while taking mini-breaks from whatever we’re working on.
Here are a few to get you started (click on them to see the full image):
Choose a Power Hobby
If you’re looking for a hobby, why not pick one that will offer your brain some mental exercise as well? We know that these are pretty effective…
1. Play a Sport
Physical activity is good for the brain and by virtue of that fact, any sport will also do the trick. If you want to up the ante, choose a sport that will get you outdoors, like rock climbing, biking, or rowing. For the biggest bang of all, do yoga because it offers the greatest brain benefits. And where else should you practice yoga but outdoors in a park surrounded by nature.
2. Learn a Second Language
Aside from opening more doors for travel and work, being proficient at a second language is also good for the brain:
- Bilinguals of two spoken languages have more gray matter than monolinguals
- Bilingual brains better equipped to process information
- Bilinguals are better able to resist distractions
There’s so much out there on the numerous benefits of being able to speak a second language that I think we need not say any more on this topic.
3. Learn a musical instrument
If listening to music can be likened to a light workout for your brain, then playing a musical instrument for the mind would be the equivalent of the full-body workout. Here are some of the ways learning a musical instrument benefits the brain:
- Music enhances coordination, concentration and memory, and improves eyesight and hearing. The process of learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system.
- Studies show that musical training develops the part of the brain responsible for processing language, and that it can wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.
- 2 years of learning piano has shown an increase of 30-40% in Math and Spatial scores.
- Music develops creativity.
4. Play thinking games
Games like chess and mah jong offer a lot of benefits for the brain:
- how playing chess develops the brain
- how chess players brains are different
- why playing mah jong is good for your brain
And if you want to add a little more brain punch to these games, why not take them out into nature? Perhaps those chess players at Washington Park had the right idea after all…