What's the secret to improved brain function? There are many, it turns out. But some of the most effective ways to make your brain work better involve creating a few simple daily habits that can have a big effect on your ability to solve problems effectively and perform well at mental tasks. Neuroscientists point to a few relatively minor changes to your daily routine that can bring big benefits for brain health. Starting any of these habits is likely to lead to higher productivity in the short term, and better cognitive health throughout your life.
1. Make sure to celebrate a small win at least once a day.
You've finished a major project that took you months to complete? Yay! You cleared all the email out of your inbox? Also yay! It turns out that your brain doesn't know the difference between a major accomplishment and a minor one, according to B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford. So hack your brain by taking the time to congratulate yourself and celebrate a minor accomplishment, preferably on a daily basis.
Research tells us that when people are happy about their work, they're both more productive and more creative. Plus, it's generally more fun to be happy than unhappy. So anything you do to make yourself happy during the workday is likely to both make you do your job better and make your job better for you.
2. Take a 20-minute walk (or run or swim).
Exercise is extremely good for you in countless ways, and one of them is improved brain function. Fortunately, you can achieve this benefit with a relatively modest investment of time and effort. According to BrainHQ, any exercise that's good for your heart is good for your brain for the same reason: Aerobic exercise pumps blood and oxygen through your system faster which allows your brain to actually create new cells. So walking, running, swimming, riding an exercise bike, and any other exercise that keeps you moving without a pause will help your brain function as well as your cardiovascular system.
One study found that just 20 minutes of exercise has a measurable effect on brain function. Conversely, very long periods of exercise that make you dehydrated can be bad for brain function.
3. Study a new language or take up a musical instrument.
Or you could juggle. The point is to start learning something completely unfamiliar that requires you to function in new ways because that will engage parts of your brain that you don't usually use. To get the most benefit, I'm sorry to say, you should stretch yourself and do something that doesn't come easily.
Chances are you'll get frustrated, and that's a good thing. Pushing through that frustration and working on whatever it is anyway is what will benefit your brain the most.
4. Get plenty of high-quality sleep.
By now, you've probably heard about some of the research on the importance of getting enough sleep. Not only will that help you perform better at your job, it will reduce your risk of Alzheimer's later in life as well. So if you've been inspired by Apple CEO Tim Cook or anyone else to get up at 4 a.m. or some other ungodly-early hour, please, please make sure you're going to bed early enough to get a full eight hours. It doesn't really matter if you go to bed early and get up early or go to bed late and get up late, so long as you're more or less consistent about it.
High-quality sleep must include a period of uninterrupted deep sleep. That means your phone should be off, on airplane, or on Do Not Disturb during the night because even the buzz of a phone on vibrate can disrupt your sleep, even if you don't wake all the way up. By the same token, your phone should be off or far away from your bed when you head off to sleep because its screen emits blue light, which is known to disturb sleep patterns. You shouldn't be using your phone or tablet right before going to sleep, either.
Admittedly, that last item will be tough for some people. But most of these are fairly simple, common-sense things nearly anyone can do. So consider working on these habits if you aren't already. Your brain will be happier if you do.