It should come as no shock to you, if you are old enough to go to college, that there are plenty of ways out there to alter your gray matter. But if you recall those commercials, your brain on drugs is like an egg being scrambled, except it’s far less delicious. What you need are some methods to improve your think-machine while daring to be drug-free. So here’s 14 totally safe ways to change your brain, and your mind, man.
- Just breathe
It may seem obvious, but research suggests slow, deep breathing like that practiced in yoga changes the brain’s ability to process information and increases awareness and cognition. And there’s even an app for it.
Maybe you should just go ahead and take up yoga. Meditation is one of its major components, and studies have found that it can strengthen brain circuits that control your ability to empathize and concentrate. Do it enough and the effects remain even when you aren’t meditating.
- Play video games
Yes, you read that right — playing video games improves your brain power. Take that, Mom! Scientists at the University of California at Irvine found that as little as 90 minutes of gaming a week thickened test subjects’ cortexes, the part of the brain responsible for a host of functions. So fire up the Xbox and enlarge your noodle.
- Earn-lay a new anguage-lay
No one is exactly sure why, but even people with dementia retain better cognitive function if they are multilingual. It probably has something to do with the similar way doing puzzles and games keeps your brain vibrant and active. Whatever the reason, learn another language now and you’ll be happy you did when you’re 85, even though no one will listen to you then anyway.
- What makes perfect?
You know from experience that doing something over and over is the best way to get good at it. It turns out this is because practice actually changes your brain structure, so that you can do a task without consciously thinking about it. This is the way to go, because the subconscious mind is far more efficient than the conscious.
- Think happy thoughts
Those sappy posters that say things like "If you think it, you can be it" are pretty much true. Thoughts induce chemical processes in the brain that in turn affect bodily functions. So positive thinking changes your brain, which changes you. This idea is the basic foundation of cognitive therapy, and it works.
- Talk it out
It is not recommended to replace medication for treating severe depression, but the effects of talking things over with another person produce changes in the brain that are akin to the changes caused by pharmaceuticals. If you have a personality disorder like social anxiety, you can improve up to seven times faster just by adding some chitchat to your therapy.
- Have a child
Add "brain structure" to the list of things that change when you become a parent. If mouse pups are any indication, new mothers’ brains experience "olfactory-auditory integration" which makes them hyper-sensitive to their babies’ cries. And guys don’t seem to be exempt either. A 2006 study involving marmosets found new fathers develop larger prefrontal cortexes that help their memory.
- Drink water
The benefits of drinking water cover the health spectrum from weight loss to recovery from illness. But a quick drink of water can also give you a substantial boost in cognitive performance, even if you’re already dehydrated. Never be without a bottle of water when you take an exam.
- Get out of town
Nearly four out of five of us live in cities these days. Maybe that one other guy has it right, because the brains of urbanites are more susceptible to stress and mental illness. The bigger the city and the longer you’ve lived there, the more active your amygdala becomes, which processes stress and emotion.
- Eat your veggies
Here’s one Mom was right about. Eating 2.8 servings of vegetables a day (or 3.0 if you care about not wasting food) slows brain aging by 40%. Although french fries and the tomato sauce on pizza are vegetables by the strictest of interpretations, leafy green veggies unfortunately get you the max aging slowdown.
- …and your fish
You may have heard it said that fish is brain food, and it’s true. Eating fish or taking omega-3 supplements increases blood flow to the brain. Eating fish regularly can even prevent brain cells from kicking the bucket, and protect you from Alzheimer’s. Fish: it’s what’s for dinner.
- Get your juggle on
Got a free week? You can increase the size of part of your brain’s occipital lobe that regulates motion detection after only seven days of three-ball juggling. Plus, you’ll be a total hit at parties.
If exercise makes you smarter, why are there so many dumb jocks? Nevertheless, physical activity has been proven to improve cognition across the board. Exercise produces chemicals that make brain cells grow and connect and communicate with other neurons. So make time in your day to break a sweat.