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7 Habits of Highly Effective Brains

The United States Senate engaged me to deliver a professional development workshop to the Senate staff on March 23, 2011. This article is an overview of that presentation - Jonathan Jordan.

Recent research of the human brain has surprised the neuroscience community by revealing that our brains can change, and be improved, at any age in our life cycle. Scholars name this process neuroplasticity. Additional good news is that we can direct our own neuroplasticity and train our brains to be more effective.  By developing simple habits, you can help ensure that your brain remains healthy and operating with improved efficiency for the rest of your life. Your brain truly is an incredible organ. People of any age can benefit from developing these 7 simple habits – listed in order of importance with the 7th habit being the most valuable:
  1. Have a Nutritious Diet. The author of The Brain Diet, Dr Alan Logan, states, "It is becoming increasingly clear that the typical Western diet is compromising brain health." Brain imaging technology shows that brain health can be improved by a nutritious diet. Studies show that people who eat a balanced diet increase their chances of maintaining cognitive brain function throughout their lives. Eat a low glycemic diet with lots of nutrients. Omega-3 essential fatty acids have been shown to support brain health in countless studies. By the way, surprisingly blueberries are also an excellent food for your brain.

  1. Focus Sequentially – Don’t Multitask. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, calculates that a person attempting to multitask takes up to 50% longer and makes up to 50% more mistakes that the person performing tasks sequentially! Recent neuroscience research proves that the human brain is unable to consciously pay full attention to two tasks at the same time. By the way, you can improve your brain’s efficiency and performance by using as many senses as possible to complete each focused task. In other words, don’t multitask but do multi-sense.

  1. Be Physically Active. Physical movements are necessary for more than just a healthy body; they actually improve brain function. An exhaustive five-year study at Quebec’s Laval University determined that active people are more likely to maintain good cognitive brain function than inactive people. This study also indicates that people who do not engage in physical activity are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who do.  You don’t need to be overly athletic for your brain to benefit. Studies show that 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking, three times a week is all you need to confer a wealth of benefits to your brain. In addition, such simple changes in lifestyle as taking the stairs at work, instead of the elevator, can help your brain stay healthy.
Physical activity can also improve your mood. Neuroscientist, Dr Kelly Lambert published a book about the link between physical activity and mental wellbeing. She writes that there is a critical connection between physical movement and emotions in the brain. This comes as no surprise to thousands of teachers using kinesthetic learning, a program of body motions combined with educational material in order to increase memory retention. Non-invasive fMRI brain scans confirm the interactions between kinesthetic activity and the blood flow to motor and emotional centers in the brain. Use motion to improve your emotions.

  1. Participate Socially. A recent study, conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found improvements in cognitive functioning are strongly connected to brain-stimulating socialization. Staying socially active throughout life can help to maintain normal brain function and may put off the onset of dementia.
Another study, conducted by Omar Ybarra of the University of Michigan, shows a direct link to the amount of time we spend interacting with our fellow human beings and the amount of cognitive brain function that we retain as we age. People who are active socially tend to experience far less mental decline than people who are socially isolated. So look up an old friend, or get together with that aunt or uncle you haven’t spoken to in some time. Stay engaged socially to maintain an effective brain. Social connections increase brain connections.

  1. Sleep Well – And Long Enough. If you've been awake for 17 hours straight your performance is equivalent to having a blood alcohol-level of 0.05% - that's the legal blood alcohol limit for driving in many countries! In her book, The Healthy Shift Worker, Audra Starkey writes that studies in Canada reveal that when clocks were are set back at the start of daylight savings, there is a dramatic drop in the number of road accidents.
Using such tools such as fMRIs, researchers today know more than ever about the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. A sleep-deprived brain works harder, but accomplishes much less than a rested brain. Know how much sleep you require, and make certain that you get it. Sleep helps reduce emotional and physical stress.
If you are tired during the daytime, then you probably are not allowing your brain time to rest at night. In necessary, find time for a power nap during the day. A 2002 study carried out at Harvard University shows that people’s motor skills and their ability to learn improves by 20% just by taking a short afternoon nap.

  1. Challenge Yourself Mentally. When you learn new things, or even think new thoughts, your brain restructures itself. The more you exercise your brain, the better it performs. Brain imaging scans actually show proof of this: your brain physically changes once you begin learning and doing new things.
Fortunately, there are countless ways to exercise your brain. One way to challenge your brain is to anything you normally do differently. For example, when brushing your teeth use the opposite hand than you usually use. Do the same with writing. You will be amazed at how challenging these simple changes are to accomplish – which means your brain is getting a workout. You can also work on puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudoku, which make your brain work to find the answers. Such activities help develop your cognitive abilities and increase judgment and awareness. To really super charge your brain, take a class in a new language, or in computer programming, or practice learning a musical instrument. The improvements to your brain’s functioning could well be enormous.

  1. Have a Positive Attitude – And Laugh Often. Attitude changes everything, including your brain. Neuroscience studies show that a relaxed person mentally deals with external stressors much better than a tense person with a bad attitude. Brain scans also prove that laughter is a great stress reducer. If you are having difficulty changing your attitude, engage in activities that make you laugh. When you laugh regularly, your brain functions more effectively, helping you cope with stress when difficult life circumstances arise. For a better quality of life, relax and laugh often.
Everyone has troubles. We all have to deal with difficult people and difficult situations. However, research shows people who maintain a positive outlook on life are better equipped to cope with even serious brain disorders. So keep an upbeat attitude and surround yourself with positive people who help you reinforce this attitude. Accept what you have, let go of anger and resentment, and move towards joy.

By making these 7 habits part of your daily routine, you’re taking steps to ensure that your brain stays healthy and efficient for a lifetime.

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