5 Ways to Keep Your Brain Fit

One of the biggest problems I experience in my daily life is forgetting things that I desperately need. For example, some of the most important school items to carry around while taking a chemistry class are a calculator, your periodic table, and a pencil. Guess what I forgot on the day of my organic chemistry lab final? A calculator. Thankfully, my friend let me borrow his second one, but what will I do in situations where I can’t depend on someone else to have my back?

My issue of losing everything on the daily (including my pride), worries me to death. What am I going to be like when I’m older? Why can I remember obscure neuroscience terms for my major, but I can’t remember for the life of me where I put my keys to my apartment?

As a neuroscience major at Ohio State University, I learn about the mechanics and wonders of the brain. The fact that we can remember so much about our daily lives, and use association techniques to connect other memories for a deeper understanding of our experiences, blows me away. Sometimes it might seem like your brain is betraying you when it pulls stunts like forgetting your keys, but it’s constantly running. We overwork our brains day in and day out just to function properly.

Most people talk about physical health as pertaining to the body, but do you ever hear about keeping your brain fit? The brain is the most important organ in our body, and we tend to forget that it’s doing most of the work in our bodies to keep us alive. We need to take care of our brains, and maintain the fitness we want for our bodies to our brains as well. Keeping your brain healthy lowers your risk of dementia later in life, and it improves memory and spatial reasoning in the present.

Here are 5 ways to increase “brain fitness” and ward off losing a bunch of stuff at once:

1. Get your exercise on!

Not only does incorporating exercise into your weekly routine keeps your physical body healthy, it also tremendously assists the brain in functioning above average. When you exercise, you increase blood flow throughout your entire body, which then affects the amount of oxygenated blood the brain receives. Our brain goes through around 750 mL of blood per minute, which is a lot. Maintaining this works the blood vessels within our brains, replenishing oxygen and keeping functioning intact. Exercising is also shown to increase connections and regeneration of certain nerve cells.  Making new connections maintains the plasticity (ability to respond to new information) and keeps your brain young. Any type of exercise will do, and focusing on exercising for 30-45 minutes, five days a week will help to maintain both your body and brain’s health and fitness.

2. Eat the Right Foods.    

Most people have heard that healthy fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and various nuts, do wonders for the brain. Though this is true, there are many more foods that assist with all types of functions we utilize daily. Here are a couple worth mentioning:

3. Learn another language!

As a college student, you probably have to take over a year of classes in a foreign language. Though this might seem annoying, it contributes so much more to your learning abilities than you might think. Being bilingual increases the plasticity in the brain by generating more connections between neurons, or brain cells. Just like exercising the body increases muscle strength and agility, challenging your brain to learn a new language builds connections that will keep the brain critically thinking and fit.

4. Avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

This seems like a no-brainer to most people. Harmful drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, and many others, interfere with the usual communication that’s constantly taking place in our brains. When different chemicals are used to relay these messages – and often in different quantities – natural signals become less effective, which can eventually lead to cell death. Continually using drugs and alcohol impairs regular functioning, and decreases the fitness of your brain, which affects not only your mental capabilities, but also your intelligence relating to school and other regular activities.

5. Try to focus on one thing at a time.

The hardest thing a college student can do is concentrate on one thing. It seems like an impossible feat and a waste of time, but it really does increase the ways in which we get things done. When you multitask, you might think you are getting a billion things done at one time, but you lose concentration by 40% when you focus one more than what is in front of you. You never do your best work, or think as critically, when your focus isn’t completely on that one subject. Take time to really think about what you are doing, and you will find that the work you produce better reflects your intelligence and your hard work.  You’ll also find that you remember subjects and facts much more clearly and easily.

The fact that the brain is mostly ignored when talking about the fitness of the body is quite surprising. We should be treating our brains like royalty, since their roles are essential to our daily lives. Though you shouldn’t be worried about losing your memory as a college student (we’re only in our twenties, for goodness’ sake), it is important to reflect upon how we treat our bodies, and what is best for our best selves.

 

Francesca Cocchiarale

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