Integrated Brain Fitness for November

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Give yourself a gold star for each of these brain-healthy activities you do this month.

Challenge Your Brain: Let Your Pen Wander

Some people think that doodling when you're listening means you're not paying attention. But research has shown that doodling can actually improve attention and memory.

Here are some ways to learn more about doodling and make the most of your doodling this month:

  • Week 1: Whether you're already a doodler or not, try doodling whatever you want while listening to new information. That might be in a class, taking details from a phone call, at a work meeting, or in any other situation where you want to remember what you hear.
  • Week 2: Learn how to step up your doodling, turning it into "visual note-taking," also called "sketchnoting." You might try watching a video, such as this one, or checking out an expert like Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution.
  • Week 3: Are you more likely to take notes on a tablet or another device? If so, check out some of the available apps that help with visual note-taking, such as Flipink and Inkflow Visual Notebook.
  • Week 4: Put what you've learned to use! Try incorporating meaningful doodles into your note-taking and decide whether it is a useful tool for your memory and attention.

How Could Doodling Improve Memory?

One thought is that doodling helps you connect visual cues with verbal information, giving your brain more avenues to retrieve the information. Another possibility is that doodling occupies your brain just enough to keep on task. It prevents you from daydreaming, which is to say from becoming totally distracted from the matter at hand. In one study, people who doodled while listening to a boring telephone message remembered 29% more than people who just listened without doodling.

Nourish Your Brain: Just Go Nuts

This November, appease your appetite for almonds, please your palate with pistachios, and work some wholesome walnuts into your diet. Nuts are one of the ten identified brain-healthy foods in the MIND diet, which one large-scale study suggested could slow cognitive decline by 7.5 years. Five servings of nuts a week is recommended — so grab some handfuls on the go and try four new recipes, such as the ones below!

Why nuts—and which nuts?

Nuts are chock full of nutrients that have been associated with better brain health. Walnuts (especially the English and Persian varieties) are probably the best over all. As with other nuts, they are great sources of antioxidants and vitamin E—but they are also the nut highest in Omega-3 fatty acids. As one study showed, higher walnut consumption (an average of about 10 grams per day, a small handful at most) improved cognitive performance on a battery of tests.

Almonds and hazelnuts are two fantastic sources of vitamin E, and vitamin E intake has been associated with less age-related cognitive decline. In one study, people who received vitamin E improved statistically and clinically in memory and verbal measures, while participants who received a placebo did not. About a third of Americans do not get enough vitamin E.

Pistachios are also a great choice, as recent research has shown they contain several types of antioxidant compounds that can be beneficial to the brain and body. Interestingly, from a nutritional perspective, pistachios have more in common with fruits and vegetables than with other types of nuts. You may have noticed that pistachios are more colorful than other nuts. Their green, yellow, and purple shading correlate with their beneficial antioxidants. The purple color comes from anthocyanins, which are the powerful brain-boosting nutrients found in blueberries. The yellow color can be attributed to beta carotene, lutein, and polyphenols, which are found in olive oil, grapes, and other healthy fruits and seeds.

Energize Your Brain: Bike Your Way to a Better Brain

Do you like to bike? If so, that's good news for your brain. Recent studies have found that biking can build the brain's white matter, among other things.

Here are some ideas for building biking into your November:

  • Week 1: Figure out how to access a bike you can use this month. If you already have a bike—and the weather is okay for biking—you're set! If you don't have a bike, find out how to borrow, rent, or buy one. And if the weather isn't cooperative for biking, see if there's a way you can use a stationary bike.
  • Week 2: Take a ride! Whether it's a just a block or fifty miles, getting on the bike is a great idea for your body and your brain.
  • Week 3: Make a day of a bike ride. Take a friend or two and a picnic — or plan to stop at a restaurant for lunch. If you're using a stationary bike, reward a good workout session with lunch with a friend.
  • Week 4: Try riding your bike somewhere you would normally drive — to the bank, work, or a friend's. If you're using a stationary bike, try upping your mileage.
Recharge Your Brain: Embrace the Couch

Do you feel guilty for indulging in an afternoon nap? Don't! By getting the sleep you need, you can give your brain and your memory a much-needed boost.

So this November, try fitting in a weekly nap. Here are some ideas:

  • Week 1: Try taking a "power nap" — just 15 minutes or so. By measuring brain activity during short naps, researchers have found that the right side of the brain—the side most associated with creativity—is highly active, while the left side of the brain remains relatively quiet. This phenomenon may explain why even just a few minutes of shut-eye can help clear your way to a creative solution you hadn't thought of before.
  • Week 2: Try a longer nap — about 30 to 60 minutes. That puts you in slow-wave sleep, which can be good for decision-making and memory.
  • Week 3: This time, try an even longer nap — 60 to 90 minutes. That should get you into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which may help make new connections in the brain and stave off sleep deprivation.
  • Week 4: Reflect on the naps you have taken and think about which one made you feel best. Do you feel best after a power nap or a longer nap? Whatever your answer, take one of those!

How Do Naps Help My Brain?

Sleep is critical for good cognitive functioning. While we sleep, the brain encodes and consolidates different kinds of memories. So, if you've learned a new dance step or read a book during the day, your brain will work to save that memory while you slumber.

Studies have shown that, like nightly sleeps, taking naps can prime the brain to absorb new information and improve learning outcomes. After a nap, you may be more open and able to learning new things, because the nap prepares your brain for it.

Sharpen Your Brain: Use BrainHQ

One of the best ways to improve your brain in BrainHQ is to push yourself to do better and better on a given exercise. This month, try earning more stars by repeating levels you've already done but haven't yet mastered.

An easy way to find those levels is to go to your Progress page and click on the "Stars Earned" tab. On the star map, you can roll over the circles and see how many stars you received in each level you have done. Want to repeat a level to earn more stars? Just click the circle!