25 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR BRAIN MORE EFFICIENT

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Source: http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/25-ways-make-your-brain-more-efficient

In a lot of ways, your overall intelligence is fairly well established before you ever have anything to do with it. Family genetics, your diet as an infant, vaccinations, illnesses during childhood, your preschool education, even the types of punishment your parents chose to dish out—there are studies linking all these factors and hundreds more to your eventual smarts as an adult. But just as you can work hard in the gym and change your diet to overcome bad physical genetics, you can also train your brain to far exceed its initial intellectual potential. “It may not be a muscle, but you can train your brain just like you would your biceps to perform at a significantly higher level,” says neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of the University of California San Francisco, and the creator ofbrainhq.com, a site designed specifically for getting your brain into better shape.

 According to Merzenich, no matter what your age or current intelligence level, that gray matter in your skull is constantly changing and evolving. Put a little work into it, he says, and your IQ, visual acuity, and ability to manage and process data (i.e., the stuff that makes you “smart”) can grow and improve right along with it. Here are 25 of the most effective ways to get you started on the road to pumped-up intelligence, all backed by reams of the latest data and research proving just how an average guy can improve his overall smarts.

1. Get Laid More
Go out for drinks. Accept that blind date your friend has been trying to push on you. Sign up for OkCupid—whatever it takes to get the job done. Why? When Princeton scientists studied a group of sexually active rats and compared them with rats who were getting it on only a couple of times a month, they found that the more active rats had an increased number of neurons in their brains, especially in the regions responsible for controlling memory. These rats also grew more cells in their brains over the course of the study—and had more connections between those cells—than the more virginal rats. You’re obviously no rat, but researchers believe the finding may hold true in humans as well, thanks to the lower levels of stress hormones and anxiety found in people who have sex more frequently.

2. Pour Yourself A Drink
Yes, too much alcohol isn’t ever going to do your body—or brain— much good. But just as it’s been shown to be good for your heart in smaller doses, alcohol also appears to be good for your brain when consumed responsibly. In a study conducted at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, in Italy, researchers found that 29% of people over the age of 65 who rarely drank during the course of their life experienced some form of mental impairment as they got older, compared with just 19% of people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol.

3. Avoid Sugar Whenever Possible
“What you eat affects how you think,” says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “And eating a high-fructose diet over the long term may alter your brain’s ability to learn and remember information,” he says. The Chilean researcher found out just how bad too many sweets can be for your brain by studying animals who were given high-sugar diets and comparing them with animals fed a more standard diet. Over time, he says, large amounts of sweets in the brain can impair synaptic activity, disrupting the ability to think clearly. Instead of soda, candy, ice cream, and baked goods, get your sweet fix on MF-approved foods like fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.

4. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check
Even if you aren’t diabetic, large fluctuations in insulin levels in the body can dull your brain’s response times and inhibit peak performance. Some researchers even speculate that insulin resistance caused by consistently high levels of insulin in the body over time may be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. On the flip side, if insulin levels are low, or the pancreas stops production of the hormone, the memory may suffer as well: A study conducted at Brown University found that insulin-resistant rats were more likely to become disoriented and have trouble finding their way out of a maze. Two ways to keep blood sugar stable: Eat carbs on the low end of the glycemic scale, and avoid both skipping meals and bingeing.

5. Buy a Wii
Or unpack that old Xbox. Turns out improved hand–eye coordination isn’t the only reason to embrace your love of Grand Theft Auto or Madden. When researchers in Belgium did an MRI analysis of the brains of 150 teenagers, they found that those who played video games frequently had more brain cells in the left ventral striatum of their brain—the region responsible for controlling the interplay of emotions and behavior. The better developed this region is, the better your potential for learning becomes.

6. Cut Back on TV
The more you watch, the less you know, says a 2010 study published in theAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine. Scientists analyzed questionnaires from nearly 4,000 people, looking at not just their overall intelligence level but also their personal data, such as the amount of TV the respondents watched each day. Not surprisingly, those who watched TV or Internet-based broadcasts the most (four hours or more a day) also had the lowest mentalacuity scores. Compounding television’s mind-rot effect, a study from Iowa State University found that students who watched more than two hours of TV a day were up to twice as likely to be diagnosed with some form of attention disorder, such as ADHD, due to the amount of rapid-fire stimuli the brain is typically overloaded with during television viewing.

7. Hit the Gym Regularly
“Use it or lose it” doesn’t apply only to your muscles. Leading an active lifestyle helps to keep the tissues in your brain every bit as young and active as those throughout the rest of your body. In fact, regular physical activity seems to help slow or even reverse the brain’s physical decay over time. Scientists at the University of Illinois have proven exercise’s prowess at keeping the brain healthy. In studies on mice, they found that regardless of whether the animals ate a super-healthy diet or traditional “boring” mouse food; had cages filled with toys and games; or were kept in a stimulation-free environment, the one factor most responsible for improving their memory and performance in cognitive tests was a running wheel. Mice who ran ended up simply being smarter all around in virtually every test, compared with mice who didn’t. Best of all: The increase in brain matter was visible after just a few weeks.

8. Eat Like a Pioneer
That means natural meats, grains, fresh fruit and produce, and as little processed food as possible. (In other words, nothing with a label or created after about 1900.) Why? In a study of almost 4,000 children, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers found that kids who were given a “traditional” or “health-conscious” diet consistently scored better on IQ tests than children fed a diet high in processed foods. Although the human brain grows at its fastest during the first three years of life, researchers say a clean, healthy diet is just as important after the brain is fully developed.

9. Order Some Fish
Pile your plate high with salmon, tuna, and other ocean dwellers at least a couple of times a week. If you don’t like fish, pop a daily fish-oil supplement instead. In a study of 4,000 teenage boys conducted in Sweden, scientists found that eating fish twice a week increased subjects’ verbal and visuospatial intelligence scores by more than 10%. Although the exact mechanism behind fish oil’s ability to improve mental performance still isn’t known, study author Kjell Toren, Ph.D., believes the benefit may come from the combination of improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system— all courtesy of seafood’s ample supply of omega3s and 6s.

10. Fight Inflammation
It doesn’t matter whether your body is battling infection, toxins, or chemicals—anything that leaves your tissue inflamed, whether inside or outside your body, may have a negative effect on your mental performance. In a study of 50,000 men ages 18–20, Swedish researchers found that inflammation in the body was consistently linked to lower intelligence levels. Among the best inflammation fighters: foods full of omega3s and antioxidants.

11. Quit Smoking Today!
When researchers at the University of Michigan tested the IQs of 172 men—some of whom smoked regularly and some who didn’t—they found that the smokers scored lower on the tests across the board. According to their finding, years of tobacco use appears to dull mental performance, dimming the speed and accuracy of a person’s overall thinking ability. A more recent study conducted at Tel Aviv University confirms the finding. When researchers there measured the IQs of 20,000 men between the ages of 18 and 21 enrolled in the Israeli Army, they found that guys who smoked more than a pack a day averaged a 90 on their IQ tests, while the average score for a nonsmoker was 101 (typical IQ scores for healthy adults usually range from 84 to 116).

12. Down Some Java
It’s not just your imagination telling you that coffee makes you think more clearly. It really does. When researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences gave rats a jolt of caffeine equivalent to what a human would get from two cups of coffee, then measured the performance of nerve cells in the brain, they found that the strength of electrical messages being transmitted increased significantly. And when your synapses become stronger and perform better, your ability to learn and remember also skyrockets.

13. Go Solo
Have a tough work issue you’re trying to power through? You may want to go it alone rather than pull together a group for a brainstorming session. A recent Virginia Tech study warns that certain group settings—whether it’s a committee meeting, a class, or even a cocktail party—can alter the expression of your IQ, making you seem dumber (or, at least, less able to process information) than you’d be if left to your own devices. The finding, according to study author Read Montague, Ph.D., shows just how interwoven psychological traits like self-confidence, intelligence, and outgoingness can be, and how impossible they may be to separate for certain individuals.

14. Stay Hydrated
Working up a sweat for just 90 minutes can dehydrate your body enough to cause your brain to literally shrink away from the sides of your skull—the equivalent of a year and a half’s worth of aging and abuse. That’s the warning from a 2009 U.K. study in which teens worked out in varying levels of sweat-inducing clothing; when they were then asked to play video games following the workout, brain scans showed their brains had to work much harder, and actions that would have been completed fairly easily took significantly more brain work to complete.

15. Take Up Swimming
Holding your breath while working out in the pool improves the flow of blood to your brain. As with your muscles, the more oxygen those tissues in your cranium get, the stronger and healthier they become—and the better they’re able to function.

16. Banish Negative Thoughts
Believing in yourself isn’t good only for your overall well-being. It can also play a crucial role in how well your brain performs in different settings. When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the relationship between test-takers’ motivation level and performance on an IQ test, they found that those who scored the best on the tests also tended to have the most positive attitudes. A second study conducted at Columbia and Stanford universities supports the finding. In this trial, researchers found that teenagers who had the most self-confidence—including believing they could successfully develop their math skills—actually had the most success doing so, consistently out-performing their peers and improving their test scores throughout the course of the two-year study.

17. Learn A New Skill
When you leave your comfort zone and do something new, your brain creates new neurons (that’s a good thing). It doesn’t matter what new skill you decide to take up—speaking a foreign language, painting, carpentry—any time you’re learning one thing, your brain is becoming better at learning everything. Need proof? When researchers at McGill University, in Montreal, enrolled a group of 30 men and women in tango lessons and tested their cognitive functions regularly, they found that after 10 weeks of classes, just learning a new dance had also helped the individuals score better on memory tests and get better at multitasking.

18. Get Off Your Ass
Just walking more can amp up your brain power, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. In the study, sedentary men and women were encouraged to walk for 40 minutes three times a week. One year later, almost all participants in the study performed better on memory and intelligence tests, due primarily to improved connectivity between cells in the brain and nervous system.

19. Fire Up Your iPod
…or sign up for guitar lessons. Whether you’re listening to music or playing it, a good song expands your potential for learning. Numerous studies show that mastering a musical instrument changes the anatomy of the brain and rewires your cells to think faster and more accurately. Although the effect is less pronounced when you’re just listening, it’s still there. A classic UC Irvine study conducted in the 1990s found that the IQs of undergrads soared (temporarily) after listening to Mozart. The study led to a bestselling series of books called The Mozart Effect.

20. Practice Memorizing Things
Think of it as a pre-workout warm-up for your brain. Pick something new each day—a cell phone number, a song lyric, a new vocabulary word, a favorite quote—and try committing it to memory, quizzing yourself every few hours to see how well you’re remembering it. “It may sound like a waste of time, but it’s an incredibly useful exercise,” says Marie Pasinski, M.D., a Harvard neurologist and author ofChicken Soup for the Soul: Boost your Brain Power. “In the digital age, we’ve ceded so much memory to our phones and computers. But remembering things is a skill like any other—it requires maintenance.”

21. Get More Sleep
Your brain isn’t just fresher after eight full hours of sleep. It also has more learning potential, and performs better than when it’s sleep deprived. How much difference does adequate sleep make? When German researchers at the University of Luebeck gave a group of men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 a series of complex math problems to solve, they found that well-rested individuals were three times more likely to figure out the rule for solving the equations than those who weren’t getting enough sleep. And the benefits don’t end there. Research from the University of Notre Dame found that people who get enough sleep are also better able to remember visual cues and process emotional information than men and women who skimp on pillow time.

22. Take a Multi
The key nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of include vitamins B, C, D, and E. In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University measured vitamin levels in the blood of 104 adults and then compared their scores on different cognitive tests, as well as MRI brain scans. The healthier the subjects’ diets were—and the more of these key vitamins they had in their blood—the bigger their brains were, and the better they performed overall on each mental test they were given.

23. De-Stress
Whatever form your relaxation takes, it will ultimately help you to be smarter in the long run, says Pasinski. When University of Oregon researchers taught a group of roughly 100 students a type of stress-busting meditation, they found that within just two weeks, study participants showed improved neural signaling within the brain, and after a month they found enhanced connections between brain cells—two of the primary factors responsible for better learning.

24. Widen Your Social Circle
“Interacting with people challenges your memory, and forces your brain to stay nimble and grow,” says Pasinski. It may not even matter whether your new friends are real or virtual: When psychologists at University College London analyzed brain scans from 125 college age students and then looked at their Facebook accounts, they found that the students with the most friends also had significantly larger brains, especially in the areas associated with memory and emotional response.

25. Consider an HGH Supplement
Human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance that helps your body to develop. But after the age of 30, levels start to plummet. Additional doses—in the form of injections or supplements— may be a solution for keeping your body and brain going strong well into old age. In a study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers found that cognitive ability improved 5–7% in people taking HGH supplements, compared to those taking a placebo.

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Why we should stop worrying of our wandering minds – Daydreaming has a bad reputation, but neuroscientists are beginning to realise that a wandering mind is not only typical – it might be beneficial.

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Source: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151106-why-we-should-stop-worrying-about-our-wandering-minds

Sit down, relax and think of nothing. Struggling? There might be a good reason why your mind seems to wander even when you try very hard to switch off: your brain never really rests. And contrary to popular belief, those idle daydreams might even be beneficial.

For years, neuroscientists worked on the assumption that our brains work hard when given a specific job to do, and switch off when we’re not mentally stimulated. This is why you’ll read about experiments in which volunteers perform a task – tapping a finger, performing some mental arithmetic, looking at evocative pictures – while their brain is scanned. The scan reveals which parts of the brain become more active during the task and which become less active. In this way it is possible to work out how our brain controls our behaviour.

The brain is never really doing nothing (Ka-Ho PANG/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The big question is: why is the idling brain so active?

Often the neuroscientists want to explore brain activity for a number of different tasks, so they need a way of getting the brain back to a neutral state between tests. This is typically done by asking the person to stare at a simple white cross in the middle of a black screen. By thinking about nothing in particular, the theory goes, the brain should basically switch off.

There is just one problem: it doesn’t.

The first sign that a resting brain is surprisingly active came two decades ago. A student called Bharat Biswal was studying for a PhD at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He was investigating ways to get a purer signal from a brain scanner, when he noticed that the resting brain isn’t doing nothing. Even when people were told to clear their minds or to stare at a cross, activity in the brain continued. Not only that, the brain scans seemed to reveal this activity was actually coordinated.

Idle network

Then in 1997 an analysis incorporating the results of nine brain scan studies revealed another surprise. Gordon Shulman hoped his analysis would help identify the network that comes to life when people pay attention. But he discovered the opposite – the network which is activated when we do nothing.

A lot happens inside our skulls when we sleep, but also when we’re resting when awake too (Credit: Getty Images)

It would make sense for the brain to become more active when volunteers shifted from resting to performing a task. Instead, Schulman noticed that some areas of the brain consistently became less active when the resting period ended and the activity began. This suggested that while people were lying quietly in the scanner supposedly doing nothing, parts of their brains were in fact more active than when the volunteers were actively performing a task.

It took a while for the idea that the brain never rests to catch on. For years neuroscientists had thought that brain circuits switched off when they weren’t needed. In 1998 the neuroscientist Marcus Raichle, now one of the leaders in the field, even had a paper rejected by a referee who said theapparent activity must surely be down to an error in the data.

(Credit: SPL)

To the surprise of scientists, the brain lit up inside scanners when people were doing nothing (Credit: SPL)

Today things are very different. Almost 3000 scientific papers have been published on the topic of the brain’s surprisingly busy “resting state”. Some object to this term for the very reason that the brain isn’t resting at all. They prefer instead to talk about the “default mode network” – the areas of the brain which remain active while we are apparently idle.

Daydreaming essentially creates memories of events that haven’t happened

How do you rest?

Answer in this global survey

Take part in The Rest Test, a survey of what people around the world think about rest. Which activities do you find restful and do you get enough time to rest? How much does the mind wander when you are resting?

The survey is part of a Wellcome Collection collaboration with BBC Radio 4. Claudia Hammond, the author of this story, is part of a group of people from disciplines as diverse as medieval history, musical composition, neuroscience and poetry, who are in residence at the Wellcome Collection in London investigating what rest really means. 

The big question is: why is the idling brain so active? There are plenty of theories, but no agreement yet. Maybe different brain areas are simply practising working together. Perhaps the brain is staying active like an idling car, just in case it needs to act suddenly. But it’s possible that those mind wanderings and replays of our day play a vital role in helping us to consolidate our memories. We know that our dreams seem to play a part in sorting out our memories – now there is evidence that it happens during the day too (in rats, at least).

We also know that when the mind is left to wander, it often focuses on the future. We start thinking about what we’re going to eat in the evening or where we’re going to go next week. All three of the chief areas of the brain involved in imagining the future are part of the default mode network. It is almost as though our brain is programmed to contemplate the future whenever it finds itself unoccupied.

Moshe Bar from Harvard Medical School thinks there might be a very good reason for that. He believes daydreaming essentially creates memories of events that haven’t happened. This gives us a strange set of “prior experiences” we can draw on to help us decide how to act if the daydreams ever do come to pass. For instance, many air travellers have wondered what it might be like to crash. Bar’s idea is that if the plane did actually crash, the memories of all those daydreams from previous flights would come into play and help the passenger decide how to behave.

(Ana C/Flickr/CC BY 2.0) (Credit: Ana C/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

What do you daydream about? (Ana C/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

But the resting state is not easy to investigate. As some cognitive psychologists have pointed out, just because a person is lying in a scanner we can’t be sure that they are alone in their thoughts, introspecting. They could be thinking about the sounds of the scanner and what’s happening around them. For this reason there are still plenty of unanswered questions about mind wandering. For instance, are the daydreams we experience when we’re trying – and failing – to focus on our work different from the ones we have when we’re deliberately trying to switch off?

Unique idleness

Progress is being made, though. A study published earlier this year hinted that we might all experience the resting state in a slightly different same way. Researchers conducted a detailed brain scan study of five people who had been trained to recount their mind wanderings in detail every time they heard a computer beep. The researchers found considerable differences between each person’s daydreaming thoughts and experiences.

(Credit: Samuel Johnson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

When the mind is left to wander it often focuses on the future (Credit: Samuel Johnson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

In September researchers at the University of Oxford used scans from the Human Connectome Project of 460 people’s brains in a resting state to explore which parts of the brain communicate with each other when we are at rest. Again, the results hinted at personal differences in the resting state – this time linked to life skills and experiences. The strength of the connections between different parts of the brain varies with the strength of a person’s memory, their years of education and their physical endurance. It is as though parts of the brain remain connected when our mind wanders just in case we need them to do something.

The discovery of the resting state also has the potential to change the way we each feel about our brains

Scientifically, the discovery that the brain is never truly at rest could help make sense of a longstanding mystery: why does the brain uses 20% of body’s energy when the activities we know it performs should need only need about 5%?Marcus Raichle has labelled the missing 15% the brain’s “dark energy” – resting state activity might account for some of this discrepancy.

The discovery of the resting state also has the potential to change the way we each feel about our brains. We know how hard it is to empty our minds. We know how our minds have a frustrating tendency to wander even when we don’t want them to. But the emerging picture suggests these quirks might actually be beneficial – even if they do prevent us from finishing a task in time to meet a deadline. In other words, perhaps it’s time to celebrate the virtues of an idle mind.

There could be a super-simple way to lose weight that doesn’t involve diet or exercise. People who drank water 3o minutes before some or all of their three meals a day lost between 5 and 9 pounds over the course of about three months. People in the water-drinking group ate fewer calories at each meal than the people in the group that didn’t change their water-drinking habits. This decrease in calories at each meal could be chalked up to the obvious: Drinking water fills up your tummy, making you feel fuller and less hungry. When you’re dehydrated, your body will often tell you you’re hungry, also people continue to eat even when they feel full.

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If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably already replaced sugary drinks like soda and juice with water.

But what you might not be aware of is that drinking water before meals could be helpful for weight loss — and perhaps not just because it occupies space in your tummy.

In a small recent study, researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK found that, on average, people who drank water 3o minutes before some or all of their three meals a day lost between 5 and 9 pounds over the course of about three months.

For their study, researchers at the University of Birmingham looked at 84 people (54 women and 30 men). The researchers don’t provide the age range for the participants in their paper, but they do say the average age of the participants was 56 years.

About half the participants drank 16 ounces (roughly two glasses) of plain, noncarbonated water 30 minutes before at least one meal a day. Some people ended up drinking water before all of their three meals a day, while others just did it for one or two.

To figure out if they were sticking with the plan, the researchers periodically surveyed the participants and monitored their urine to see how much water they were actually consuming.

The other half of the participants didn’t drink any water before their meals. Instead, to encourage them to feel like an active part of the study, they were told to picture feeling full.

Overall, both groups of study participants lost a bit of weight — between 2 and 9 pounds — over the course of the study. Researchers can’t say for sure why this happened, but several studies have found that simply being studied can have pronounced effects on behavior.

But people in the water-drinking group lost about 2.7 pounds more than the group that did not change their water-drinking habits.

How did this happen?

There are many factors that can contribute to weight loss, from an increase in exercise to a change in diet or mood.

The researchers tracked some of these factors over the course of their study, including participants’ physical activity and how many calories they ate at each meal.

They noted that there wasn’t much of a difference between the two groups in terms of how much they exercised — in fact, the group that wasn’t drinking water before meals actually worked out a little longer, on average, than the group that did drink water.

What likely contributed to the weight loss, therefore, wasn’t exercise, and it wasn’t necessarily changes in the contents of the participants’ meals. They were given general nutrition tips, but they were instructed to eat whatever they wanted.

Yet the people in the water-drinking group ate fewer calories at each meal than the people in the group that didn’t change their water-drinking habits.

The researchers think that this decrease in calories at each meal could be chalked up to the obvious: Drinking water fills up your tummy, making you feel fuller and less hungry.

But there could be other reasons as well. For one thing, when you’re dehydrated, your body will often tell you you’re hungry, so there’s a better chance of water getting into your system through the food you eat.

Considering trying the ‘diet’?

While this might have been the case for the participants in the study, other research has found that people continue to eat even when they feel full, so this might not be a foolproof plan for everyone.

Plus, the study sample included mainly white, middle-aged adults, so the “results may not be applicable to a general adult population.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/does-drinking-water-before-eating-help-you-lose-weight-2015-8#ixzz3kJKe9Cal