Improving your cognitive abilities probably doesn’t rank high on your list of things to do but it should.
After all, there is no organ more critical to your health than your brain, but so many of us neglect to exercise this all-important nexus of activity.
Luckily for you, research shows that there are certain activities you can do to improve your cognitive functioning.
Backed by science, these activities range from changing up routines to undertaking new skills and tasks.
1. Embrace Ambidexterity
One way you can improve your cognitive functioning and add a little challenge to everyday activities is by switching up your dominant hand.
In other words, work towards becoming more ambidextrous. Science has shown using different hands activates the opposite hemisphere of the brain – that is, your right hand activates your left hemisphere and your left hand activates your right hemisphere.
Further, research demonstrates an activity as simple as clenching a ball can benefit your cognitive functioning (1).
Putting a different hand to use is one thing, but does this principle of changing up a routine apply to other areas of life, and do these changes bear similar benefits?
It turns out, yes, change in general can have benefits for cognitive functioning.
2. Take New Routes on Your Daily Commute
Another research study looked at taxi cab drivers and examined their ability to remember different routes.
The findings showed that the brain is particularly active while navigating, with activity in the right hippocampus being particularly high.
The research results suggest that using novel routes or taking different roads on daily commutes could have benefits for cognitive functioning (2).
3. Learn a New Skill
In fact, sustained engagement has a myriad of positive effects on cognitive functioning. Research into the brain health of older adults found that if seniors were engaged in sustained learning or trying to undertake novel tasks, their brain functioning improved compared with those who did not.
The study even distinguished between those who engaged in a novel activity versus those that merely received information about a novel subject and found that those who engaged in the novel activity showed improved episode memory over the receptive only group (3).
One excellent example of a novel skill that seniors could engage in to improve cognitive functioning is learning a new language.
Studies show that adults who speak more than one language show more advanced levels of general knowledge, better communication skills, and increased ability to adapt to new situations.
4. Stop Multitasking
Something that may come as no surprise to many – research also shows that multitasking degrades cognitive functioning.
Focusing on tasks, rather than undertaking a multitude of often unrelated activities, leads to higher quality work, greater creativity, and increased productivity (4).
MIT professor Earl Miller describes the tendency to want to multitask as likely developing in the primordial past when new, or novel, information could often prove the difference between life and death.
Now it only serves to undermine your quality of work and leads to greater levels of mental fatigue and stress.
5. Ask More Questions
Along these lines, it helps to question and interrogate the world around. Research shows that you can improve concentration and memory by simply asking questions about the world around you.
Provocative or silly questions both benefit the asker as the brain is engaged in both receiving and interpreting new information.
Research advises that you relate to the new information, repeat it, and explain it in order to get those neurons firing (5).
6. Stop Watching Television
But if you’re thinking about getting that new information from a television then you might want to reconsider your strategy.
Not only is the receptive-only activity of television viewing detrimental to cognitive health, it can lead to decreased overall intelligence according to research.
Not only that, but it was found to negatively impact on verbal working memory. If introduced too young, television viewing can also detrimentally impact a child’s cognitive development (6).
7. Play Brain Teasers
Playing brain teasers does show benefits for cognitive functioning and brain development. Specifically, games like n-back and dual n-back according to a research study conducted by a team from the University of Michigan.
Both fluid intelligence and the participants individual intelligence quotients (IQs) were higher after regularly participating in games of n-back.
8. Exercise and Lift Weights
Another way to build brain power and also improve overall holistic health is to lift weights or otherwise engage in athletic activities.
A team of researchers in Australia examined whether resistance training had a positive impact on cognitive functioning and they discovered that it had a marked and tangible benefit according to Harvard Health Publishing (8).
Participants were given cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and at the end and the scores of those who participated in weight lifting regimens were much higher than the initial scores they achieved prior to training.
9. Get Enough Sleep
One often overlooked but completely common sense method of improving brain functioning is to make sure you get enough sleep. Easier said than done, right?
Not only does a regular sleep schedule help overall body health, but also it leads to improved cognitive functioning according to sleep experts and medical professionals.
Not only does a rested mind perform better on cognitive tests but also shows improved signs of general wellness according to the research findings (9).
10. Eat Healthy Foods – Like Salmon
Finally, you are what you eat. Specifically, there are particular foods that demonstrate efficacy in improving cognitive functioning.
Next time you see an awesome sushi restaurant, you might want to pull over.
Research shows that salmon is one of the most potent brain foods you can find and eating salmon regularly corresponds to improved memory, mood, and cognitive functioning.
Never would have suspected that piece of sashimi was more than a delicious piece of fish but in fact salmon has high levels of a fatty acid called DHA, your brain’s favorite.
The brain is composed mainly of acids and fats, the main one being the same DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, found in oily fish like salmon (10).
Which one is your favorite? Share with us in the comment section below!
I personally love the last tips. You know why? It’s delicious!
About the Author: Reza is the owner of Multipotens, a brain improvement website that focuses on brain improving products and informational content.