Brain health is vital as we age. Ensuring our brains are in tip-top condition can help stave off a range of later life brain illnesses, as well as improve memory, concentration and focus. Much as you take care of the rest of your body – from eating five-a-day to exercising three-times-a-week – taking care of your brain is something to take seriously.
There are plenty of studies showing the diet and exercise can have a positive impact on your brain, but if you have a hectic lifestyle and haven’t quite managed to head to the gym, there are some everyday brain hacks that may improve brain health. And if you do already eat a healthy diet and lead an active life, then these brain health hacks may further improve the health of your brain.
Read our guide to brain food to boost brain health.
Smell rosemary to boost brain health
Rosemary is famed for its ability to improve recall and memory. In Elizabethan England, rosemary was known as the herb of remembrance, and it seems like our Elizabethan forebears were onto something. A study conducted by Northumbria University found that smelling rosemary oil had the effect of improving brain power and boosting mood. In the study, those who sniffed rosemary oil did better in mental tests that measured accuracy, mood and speed. This is probably because rosemary contains and chemical that may help increase overall alertness and our ability to recall events.
Eat a curry to aid brain repairs
Eating a spicy curry may be able to reduce brain decline that is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This is due to the array of spices used in curry dishes, many of which are loaded with antioxidants which play a vital role in maintaining brain health and helping repair damage caused by free radicals. Off all the spices added to curries, look of for curcumin which gives turmeric its distinctive yellow colour. Studies show curcumin may help reduce the build-up of proteins on the brain, which is thought to be one of the factors in Alzheimer’s disease.
Chew gum to aid brain health
The old joke about evaluating a person’s intelligence by their ability to chew gum and walk at the same time is way off base. If you need a quick alertness boost, then popping a stick of gum into your mouth might do the trick. Chewing gum may improve concentration and memory, as well as reducing reaction times in people chewing gum according to a study at Cardiff University.
It looks like the flavour of gum matters, too. A Coventry University study found that mint-flavoured chewing gum can also reduce tiredness, while other studies have found that test scores and memory may be improved by up to as much as one third when chewing gum.
Colouring to improve attention and reduce stress
It’s no surprise that adult colouring books have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. Harking back to our childhood, colouring in is incredibly therapeutic. There’s science behind keeping in the lines, too, with the region of the brain that is responsible for stress and anxiety – the amygdala – notably calmed when colouring in. As a bonus, colouring in helps us switch off in a similar way to meditation, and also improves attention and other cognitive abilities by activating the brain’s cerebral hemispheres.
The colour red can improve attention
If you need to focus, add plenty of red to your environment. The brain is highly attuned to its surroundings, and colour can have a dramatic effect on mood and brainpower. Red is good for boosting attention as it stimulates the brain to an imagined threat of danger, increasing overall alertness. If you’d rather gain a creativity perk, then surround yourself in a more tranquil blue, which has been found to increase creativity.
The power of the colour red is backed by science. A study by the University of British Columbia followed 600 volunteers to see how colour influenced their mental abilities. It found that when using a computer that projected images and words on a red background, participants performed better in short-term memory and detail tests, such as spell-checking. Those exposed to a blue background performed better in tests requiring more imaginative approaches.
Improve your memory and concentration with everyday sports and activities. Learn more in our guide Brain power: exercise that can boost your brain.
Cute animals are good for the brain
You don’t need a real, live animal in your life to boost brain health – scientists have found that just looking at cutesy pictures of baby animals, kittens and puppies can provide a short-term concentration boost. A study at Hiroshima University found that participants performed better on tests that measured the ability to focus when shown pictures of cuddly animals.
Keep your teeth clean to aid brain health
If you needed another reason to brush thoroughly twice-a-day, then you can add brain health to the list. Not only will your teeth last longer and your breath is fresher for those around you, but healthy gums can reduce your risk of declining mental abilities. According to research by the University of Central Lancashire School and Medicine and Dentistry, poor dental hygiene could be a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. It found that bacteria found in gum disease also present in the brain of those with dementia, and may contribute to changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s such as declining memory and increased confusion.
Get out the lawnmower to boost your brain
Mowing the lawn gets much easier when you know you’re also improving the health of your brain. It’s not the act of mowing, but the effect freshly cut grass has on your brain. When grass is cut it releases a chemical, according to a study by the University of Queensland, that can induce feelings of relaxation and happiness – and may help stave off age-related brain health decline. This may be because it positively affects the amygdala, which is responsible for feelings of stress and anxiety, and subsequently reduces blood pressure, sweating and heart rate.
Quick brain hack – clench your fist
If you need to remember something important, then clenching your fist for 90 seconds can help you commit it to memory more successfully. Conversely, clenching your fist can also help improve memory recall, allowing your brain to improve how it remembers, stores and recalls memories.
The trick, according to research by the Montclair State University, is to derail the status quo of your brain’s approach to laying down memories. But distracting your brain via a simple body movement it changes how your brain functions during that time and can help activate key regions important for laying down new memories or recalling them later.
Don’t sleep – learn before bed
If you need to remember something, such as an important date or number sequence, the best time is right before you go to sleep. Imagine that your brain works like a recording device during the day. Memories and important data experienced in the morning can be, in effect, overwritten during the day with new memories. In a recent study, researchers found that going through the information before sleeping results in less interference with new memories and improve your ability to retain information.
Don’t want to sleep yet? Daydream your way to a better brain
Not quite ready for bed? No worries – even daydreaming can have a positive impact on your brain health according to studies. Daydreaming allows our brain to freewheel and devote more time to problem-solving – and it can carry on to later tasks. A University of British Columbia study found that when we daydream, the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving is more active even when we’re working on everyday tasks. Daydreaming can, the study found, be useful for when we need to solve a difficult problem or issue.
If all else fails, wiggle your eyes
For s short-term concentration boost, the secret may be a quick wiggle of the eyes. Rapidly moving your eyes from side-to-side for around 30 seconds can help you concentrate more according to a study by Manchester Metropolitan University. The trick is the side-to-side movement, which may help boost communication between the two hemispheres of your brain. Oddly, there was no improvement in the ability to concentrate by wiggling eyes up and down or staring straight ahead.