Summer vacation is in full swing, but that's no reason to let the brain veg. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Beckman Institute, Urbana, IL. And aerobic exercise seems like an especially great way to make it to MENSA—one study showed adults’ brain-processing speed improved after half an hour of moderate exercise. In one study, cardiovascular rehabilitation patients who exercised to music performed better on a test of verbal fluency than those who worked out sans tunes Short-term effects of exercise and music on cognitive performance among participants in a cardiac rehabilitation program.
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It’s unclear how long the nap should last—in one study, young adults who napped for 90 minutes showed significant improvements in memory. Instead, make like a monkey and hang upside down: It’s possible that memory improves when the head hangs lower than the rest of the body.
Power Naps For those who didn’t quite catch enough Zzzs last night, a power nap may be just the thing to help stay focused. But make sure to keep viewing time to a minimum—a permanent butt-print on the couch is never a good sign. Lying Down Perfect posture’s important—but there’s no need to stand up nice and straight. School of Psychology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.
Slipping between the sheets might be the better option: For most people, a solid seven hours of sleep is important to maintain cognitive skills such as learning, concentration, and memory. On the other hand, some scientists say naps only improve memory if they involve dreaming. Breaking a Routine If the barista at the local coffee shop knows what “I’ll have the usual” means, it might be time to change that routine. Start off with a few minutes of meditative belly breathing to improve concentration. Some researchers suggest playing video games improves a number of cognitive skills, from vision to multitasking to spatial cognition Neural bases of selective attention in action video game players.
A Good Night’s Sleep Stay up all night studying or hit the hay? Division of Sleep and Chronobiology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA. But other research suggests even naps that last a few minutes can increase alertness . Instituto do Cérebro, Instituto Israelita de Ensino e Pesquisa Albert Einstein, São Paulo, Brazil. Plus the more you practice meditation, the better you get at making decisions. Video Games Guys who hang out in their basements playing Xbox games aren’t just supercool—they may also be smarter than the rest of us. And one study found people solved anagrams faster when they were lying down than when they were standing Thinking on your back: solving anagrams faster when supine than when standing.
One study found lawn-mowing releases a chemical that relieves stress and might even boost memory in older adults. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98(7):1215-1220. Mental exercising through simple socializing: social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Department of Psychology, Research Center for Group Dynamics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2008 May;94(5):739-56.. Researchers surmise thinking about family history increases people’s sense of control.
Training-induced neural plasticity in golf novices. Research suggests doodling during a cognitive task helps improve memory because it keeps the brain stimulated. But don’t hold back that brain—it turns out there are lots of cognitive benefits to letting the mind wander, like increased creativity and problem-solving ability Back to the future: autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering. Pick up some mental—er, dental—floss on the way home today. Lawn Mowing The grass is always greener, and the brain may be sharper, after we mow the lawn. Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA. Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In one study, people who thought about their ancestors before a series of cognitive tests performed better than people who focused on something else. If the ability to sit still and silent for more than 10 seconds isn’t impressive enough, get this: Meditation helps improve memory, decision making, and attention span The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practicers: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification.
Research suggests dancing involves mental challenges like coordination and planning, and may protect against cognitive decline Six months of dance intervention enhances postural, sensorimotr, and cognitive performance in elderly without affecting cardio-respiratory functions. Adults studying a new language may be more likely to remember words when they write them out instead of typing them. Take a few minutes to talk it out before the next big test or meeting.