In the new season of Brain Games, you’re going to learn about some of the amazing abilities built into your brain, and about some of its odd and amusing quirks as well. In these companion articles, you’ll get more of the scientific background about your brain, and also some tips on how to put your new knowledge to use to develop abilities and improve your everyday life. But first, here are some basic introductory tips on how to keep your brain optimally healthy and ready for all the tricks that we’re about to teach you.
• Get plenty of rest. University of Wisconsin researchers have discovered that sleep turns on genes that trigger production of myelin, a material that’s the equivalent of insulation around electrical wire, helping make sure that your neurons are able to transmit impulses among one another. A study published in Science in 2013 also found that your brain uses sleep time to flush out toxic waste that cells produce during daily use. Amazingly, your cells actually shrink a little in size, to make it easier to clean in the spaces between them. The National Institutes of Health says that most adults need about 7-8 hours a day, though some can get by on as little as 5 hours, and others need as much as 10.
• Eat the right foods. Certain nutrients are important to healthy brain function, and you can get them with the right food choices. Studies show that blueberries, for example, contain nutrients that help protect the brain from oxidative stress, and may even help reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Deep-water fish such as salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain function. Nuts and seeds—including foods such as peanut butter—are good sources of vitamin E, which helps to stave off cognitive decline. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow to your brain. Whole-grain breads and cereal also contain nutrients that can help in that way.
• Get enough exercise. Regular cardiovascular exercise actually can boost your brainpower. Research has shown, for example, that workouts cultivated the growth of new neurons in mice, and that formerly sedentary humans who did cardio work for six months showed improved performance in cognitive drills that require them to switch between different tasks without making mistakes. A German study published in 2010 found that subjects who swam, rode bikes or even worked in the garden a few times a week were only half as likely to show cognitive impairment as they aged, compared to those who rarely worked up a sweat. It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to benefit your brain—three 20-minute sessions a week should do it.