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The Ten Habits of a Sharp Brain

As our final arti­cle for 2011, let us repur­pose one of Sharp­Brains’ most pop­u­lar blog posts since 2006. It may give you a few point­ers to sharp­en those New Years Res­o­lu­tions. Let’s sum­ma­rize some lifestyle guide­lines we can all fol­low to enhance and main­tain a sharp brain through life...

  1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic under­stand­ing will serve you well to appre­ci­ate your brain’s beau­ty as a liv­ing and con­stant­ly-devel­op­ing dense for­est with bil­lions of neu­rons and synaps­es.
  2. Take care of your nutri­tion. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but con­sumes over 20% of the oxy­gen and nutri­ents we intake? As a gen­er­al rule, you don’t need expen­sive ultra-sophis­ti­cat­ed nutri­tion­al sup­ple­ments, just make sure you don’t stuff your­self with the “bad stuff”.
  3. Remem­ber that the brain is part of the body. Things that exer­cise your body can also help sharp­en your brain: phys­i­cal exer­cise enhances neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis.
  4. Prac­tice pos­i­tive, future-ori­ent­ed thoughts until they become your default mind­set and you look for­ward to every new day in a con­struc­tive way. Stress and anx­i­ety, no mat­ter whether induced by exter­nal events or by your own thoughts, actu­al­ly con­tribute to neu­ronal death and pre­vent the cre­ation of new ones. You can think of chron­ic stress as the oppo­site of exer­cise.
  5. Thrive on Learn­ing and Men­tal Chal­lenges. The point of hav­ing a brain is pre­cise­ly to learn and to adapt to chal­leng­ing new envi­ron­ments. Once new neu­rons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they sur­vive depends on how you use them. “Use It or Lose It” does not mean “do cross­word puz­zle num­ber 1,234,567”. It means, “chal­lenge your brain often to mas­ter fun­da­men­tal­ly new activ­i­ties”.
  6. We are (as far as we know) the only self-direct­ed organ­isms in this plan­et. Aim high. Once you grad­u­ate from col­lege, keep learn­ing. The brain keeps devel­op­ing, no mat­ter your age, and it phys­i­cal­ly reflects what you do with it.
  7. Explore, trav­el. Adapt­ing to new loca­tions forces you to pay more atten­tion to your envi­ron­ment. Make new deci­sions, use your brain.
  8. Don’t Out­source Your Brain. Not to media per­son­al­i­ties, not to politi­cians, not to your smart neighbour…not to us. Make your own deci­sions, and mis­takes. And learn from them. That way, you are train­ing your brain, not your neighbour’s.
  9. Devel­op and main­tain stim­u­lat­ing friend­ships. We are “social ani­mals”, and need social inter­ac­tion. Which, by the way, is why ‘Baby Ein­stein’ has been shown not to be the panacea for chil­dren devel­op­ment.
  10. Laugh. Often. Espe­cial­ly to cog­ni­tive­ly com­plex humor, full of twists and sur­pris­es. Bet­ter, try to become the next Jon Stew­art

Now, remem­ber that what counts is not read­ing this arti­cle-or any oth­er-, but prac­tic­ing a bit every day until small steps snow­ball into default, inter­nal­ized habits…so, pick one pri­or­i­ty for next month and start work­ing on it. Revis­it the habit above that real­ly grabbed your atten­tion, click on the link to learn more, and make a deci­sion to try some­thing new and bet­ter on Jan­u­ary 1st.

Wish­ing you a sharp and hap­py 2012,

- The Sharp­Brains Team

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