Reader's Digest - - 50 Ways To Get Smarter About Your Brain -


Brain ac­tiv­ity dur­ing dream­ing in­creases to a sim­i­lar level as when we are awake, says be­hav­ioral sleep ther­a­pist Richard Shane, PHD. That may help you solve prob­lems and boost your abil­ity to cope with strug­gles and stress. A Har­vard Med­i­cal School study showed that par­tic­i­pants who achieved REM sleep (when dream­ing usu­ally hap­pens) were bet­ter able to de­tect pos­i­tive emo­tions in other peo­ple, while those who did not were more sen­si­tive to nega­tive emo­tions. The study’s au­thor sug­gests that dreams help the brain process nega­tive emo­tions safely. If we fail to dream, then we fail to let go of these emo­tions and are left in a con­stant state of anx­i­ety.


In a 2013 study in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Psy­chol­ogy, re­searchers had two groups of peo­ple lis­ten to a 30-minute record­ing that in­cluded a se­quence of num­bers. Af­ter lis­ten­ing, the par­tic­i­pants were asked to re­mem­ber the se­quence. But only one group chewed gum—and peo­ple in that group had higher ac­cu­racy rates and faster re­ac­tion times than the non–gum chew­ers. The re­searchers say that chew­ing gum in­creases the flow of oxy­gen to re­gions of the brain re­spon­si­ble for at­ten­tion.


A 2015 re­view of pre­vi­ously pub­lished re­search showed that less fre­quent so­cial in­ter­ac­tion was as­so­ci­ated with a higher in­ci­dence of new cases of de­men­tia. Vol­un­teer­ing, vis­it­ing with friends and fam­ily, and stay­ing ac­tive in so­cial groups can help keep your brain healthy as you age.


A re­cent re­view of re­search found that gamers show im­prove­ments in the brain re­gions in­volved in at­ten­tion. There’s also ev­i­dence that play­ing video games can in­crease the size and ef­fi­ciency of the re­gions of the brain that con­trol vi­su­ospa­tial skills.

Re­searchers are even de­vel­op­ing video games that can mod­ify re­gions of the brain that con­trol mood— there’s one video game de­signed to treat de­pres­sion. But be care­ful— video games can also be ad­dic­tive be­cause of the struc­tural changes they cause in the brain’s re­ward sys­tem.


As if you needed an­other ex­cuse: Sex may help your brain think bet­ter as you age. A new study found that adults ages 50 to 83 who were sex­u­ally ac­tive scored bet­ter on cog­ni­tive tests than those who weren’t. Sex may also re­duce anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion and help you sleep, which ben­e­fits brain health as well.


Stud­ies show that time off helps you be more pro­duc­tive. “Our brains are not ma­chines that can work end­lessly with­out a glitch,” says psy­chol­o­gist Deb­o­rah Serani, Psyd, the au­thor of De­pres­sion in Later Life and a pro­fes­sor at Adel­phi University. Down­time “al­lows the reg­u­la­tory sys­tems of your brain to chill out,” she says.


“Brain-map­ping stud­ies show that med­i­ta­tion re­duces anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, and stress,” Serani says. “Med­i­ta­tion also sharp­ens at­ten­tion and im­proves cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.” One study showed that a long-term med­i­ta­tion prac­tice can help save your gray mat­ter from at­ro­phy­ing with age, per­haps be­cause it stim­u­lates the for­ma­tion of synapses or be­cause it re­duces the harm­ful im­mune re­sponse caused by chronic stress. An­other study found that med­i­ta­tion could also im­prove con­cen­tra­tion and mem­ory.


“There’s a long his­tory of re­search show­ing that laugh­ter in­creases feel-good hor­mones dopamine and sero­tonin,” Serani says. This in turn de­creases pain and im­proves re­siliency.


In one study of adults ages 65 and older, those who ex­er­cised four times a week cut the risk of de­men­tia in half com­pared with those who ei­ther weren’t ac­tive at all or were ac­tive only one day a week. Plus, “ex­er­cise at ev­ery age has been shown to im­prove mem­ory, con­cen­tra­tion, and other cog­ni­tive func­tions,” says Palin­ski­wade. This ap­pears to be linked to an in­crease in cir­cu­la­tion, bring­ing oxy­gen and nu­tri­ents to the brain while also help­ing re­move waste.


A re­cent study found that older adults who fol­lowed the Mediter­ranean diet—rich in veg­eta­bles, fruit, whole grains, and fish—re­tained more brain cells than older adults who didn’t fol­low the diet. An­other study found that com­pounds in ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, an im­por­tant part of the Mediter­ranean diet, “may re­duce brain in­flam­ma­tion as well as pre­vent the buildup of plaque and neu­rofib­ril­lary tan­gles, which are sus­pected to con­trib­ute to the symp­toms of Alzheimer’s,” Palin­ski-wade

says. In ad­di­tion, “DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids from salmon and other fish have been found to be pro­tec­tive to the brain and con­trib­ute to im­proved mem­ory func­tion in older adults,” she says.

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