5 Ways to Boost Your Cognitive Fitness

Brain Waves

Imagine for a second what you could do if you could boost your brain power by 20%. Imagine what 20% more energy, 20% greater cognitive ability, and 20% higher emotional control would do for you.

If you were able to boost your brain power by 1/5 of your current capacity, it would have an immense impact on not just what you do, but more importantly, who you are as a person.

20% more creative, 20% more positive, and 20% happier.

You would be more focused, productive, and intentional in your behavior. You would be less susceptible to bad habits, avoid weak emotional states, and become more aligned with who you genuinely want to be as a person, even during stressful circumstances.

I’ve got some good news for you!

You can boost your brain power by 20% and maybe even more!!

I’ll share with you what the latest neuroscience research says about how to do it.

The first thing you need to know is that the adage that we “only use 5% of our brain” is not valid. The fact is, we don’t know the full capacity of our brain. It’s impossible to calculate how much we are using something when we can’t figure the total ability of that thing. The intention of the adage is true, however. Human beings leverage far less than the full capability of our brain.

Neuroscience, the study of the brain and nervous system, has made great strides in understanding how our brain works. This research has allowed scientists to map brain function and begin to create interventions to manage or even avoid brain diseases such as Alzheimers and dementia. Funding for neuroscience research is on the rise, and our understanding of the brain is accelerating with the invention of new technologies and our desire to avoid brain-based problems. While there are dozens of ways you can boost your brain-power and optimize your brain, I’ll share with you five things you can do starting today.

Before I dive in the five ways to optimize your brain, I want to dispel a popular myth. And if you are over the age of 40, you will appreciate this information. Through brain care, a person’s mental capabilities in their 60 and 70’s can be just as strong as a person in their 20’s. According to Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts organizational management and brain researcher say that “a number of regions of the brain important to functions such as motor behavior and memory can actually expand their complement of neurons as we age.” (Harvard Business Review, November 2007). This is what is often called continual neurogenesis. If you can stay cognitively fit, you will significantly boost your ability to have a more fulfilling life, be more successful at work, be more healthy physically and emotionally and delay or even avoid memory problems, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s really what this article is about.

Here are five ways you can boost your brain’s capability, optimize your health, and boost your cognitive fitness.

Fuel your brain like it’s an expensive, exotic car. Brain health begins with basic behaviors such as drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet, and refraining from toxic chemicals such as recreational drugs and alcohol. The better you eat, the better your brain will function because the body and brain work together to create the right physiology for you to thrive.

If the food you eat hinders your health, it also significantly hinders your brain. Likewise, the healthier your body, the more efficient and powerful your brain will be. One way to begin to eat better is to choose the 80/20 rule. Decide that at least 80% of your food will be healthy and allow 20% or less to be you “want foods.” Too much sugar, carbs, poor quality foods (fried foods and fast foods) is the equivalent of putting cheap gas into an engine that is designed for performance. It will run, but the performance will not be optimized.

This approach is a sustainable way to change your lifestyle and eat better for the long-haul. A good resource for eating for brain optimization is a book called The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age. I also recommend you check out BulletProof.com and Dave Asprey’s BulletProof podcast.

Exercise like you are preparing for a triathlon. While nutrition is essential to your health, research has found that exercise is a powerful way to mitigate an imperfect diet and helps you keep your brain healthy.

Exercise is the “good stress” the body needs to maintain its youthfulness, continue to grow, and prevent injury and physical issues that come with the aging process. Exercising keeps you young. Both physically and mentally. Exercise helps your body release chemicals that benefit you and keeps your brain awake, focused, and vibrant.

Let’s say you are preparing for a triathlon. The race is composed of three different events, swimming, cycling, and running. To prepare yourself you will need to exercise in different ways. For example, you wouldn’t just train by swimming in a pool to prepare yourself for the race. Instead, you would training by swimming, cycling, and running. You would do this in different environments and in different conditions. Finally, you would also add other elements to your training, such as stretching and resistance training to build flexibility, strength, and prevent injury.

The same is true with boosting your brain power. You need to exercise in different ways to benefit your brain. Resistance training that stresses the muscles and joints and aerobic training that stresses the heart and lungs are both critical factors for creating optimal health and physiology that will support your brain’s ability to think, focus, process emotions, manage adversity, and create positive energy for you to be your best.

Prioritize your sleep. Human beings sleep less each night than we did 50 years ago and for hundreds of years prior. There are several factors that contribute to our lack of sleep that didn’t exist in the past. These factors include high-stress levels, workload, busyness, obesity, caffeine consumption, medications, blue lights, environmental stimuli, noise, and maybe the chief among them all is the never-ending entertainment options we have at our disposal.

Numerous studies show how the human brain operates below capacity and sometimes far below capacity when a person lacks just a few hours of sleep in one night or when we try to go too long without sleeping. One study revealed the scary outcome of a person’s brain functions. The study showed that a person’s mental capacity, even at the neuron level slows down by as much as 50% after a person goes 17-19 hours without sleep. Performance on some tests was found to be equivalent to or worse than having a .05% blood alcohol level.

Getting optimal sleep is the most crucial ingredient for optimizing your brain and boosting your mental capacity. And there is a bonus when you get more sleep you feel better, you will be physically healthier, you prevent brain illness, manage your hormone balance, and you will live longer.

If you are serious about optimizing your brain, you need to become a sleep expert on yourself. Not everyone sleeps the same way and requires the same amount of sleep. I encourage you to read this article by Harvard Medical on how to determine how many hours of sleep you need. Start studying yourself to determine what works for you to sleep well.

You will likely want to invest in yourself by purchasing some items that will help you get the best sleep possible.

Here a few things to considers. Create a consistent bedtime and wake time. The consistency you create will help your body develop a cadence for sleeping and waking.

  • Stop looking at phone, television, and computer screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Make your room as dark as possible.
  • Turn down the temperature in your room.
  • Remove or cover all blue lights in your room — even your alarm clock.
  • Limit caffeine during the day. Avoid caffeine after 3 pm.
  • Purchase a mattress and bedding that you love. That is comfortable and provides the right level of support. If you purchase a tempur-pedic mattress as I did, it will set you back a few thousand dollars, but it is an investment in your physical and mental health. Most people don’t hesitate to spend thousands of dollars to buy a comfortable couch, lounge chair, car seats, etc. Why wouldn’t you do this for a piece of furniture you use 33% of your time, and that has more impact on your health and brain function?
  • Get a sleep study. If you feel fatigued and tired throughout the day, you may have breathing issues at night. Most insurances pay for the study if you talk to your doctor and you have a history of snoring.
  • Purchase sleeping aids. Please note that this DOES NOT include sleeping pills or any kind of drug. I’m talking about things like eye covers, an anti-snore mouthpiece, chin strap, pillows, wedges, comfortable bed sheets, and other items that will help you sleep better. Try things out and return them if they don’t work for you.

Exercise your brain with play. People who want cognitive fitness need to exercise their brain in different ways. We all have habits and preferences for how we think about and approach challenges. These approaches have become second nature to us and likely have become a strength. However, we have to be careful that we don’t become over-reliant on specific ways we think, solve problems, and approach mental challenges.

Two neuroscience researchers, Gilkey and Kilts, encourage people to develop both sides of the brain, so they work together better. Developing both sides of our brain helps us to perceive, process, and analyze things in different ways rather than being stuck using limited approaches. The left side of the brain is responsible for carrying out routine tasks, identifying patterns, and discerning order. The right side of the brain is responsible for imaginative, image-based, and metaphorical duties. Exercising your brain will create positive, growth stimulating stress.

Just like physical exercise, you want to participate in activities that are uncomfortable and takes more in-depth focus and processing. Here is a list of activities that can help you exercise different areas of your brain.

  • Read funny books – humor promotes insights.
  • Play brain games – Sudoku, crossword puzzles, role-playing games, and team-building activities, among many others.
  • Gain new experiences that are out of your comfort zone — visit museums and exhibits.
  • Try new technologies.
  • Learn a language or an instrument.

Here are several phone and computer applications you can use that will help you exercise your brain and keep your mental engine purring in tip-top shape.

  • Lumosity
  • CogniFit
  • Eidetic
  • Git Brains Trainer
  • Peak Elevate

Leverage supplements. We have already established that a healthy diet and adequate nutrition is essential for optimizing your brain. Using supplements can help you get to the next level. When your diet doesn’t provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals, taking a multivitamin can be helpful to fill in the gaps.

You will find a list of the basic supplements I take below.

  • Multivitamin (choose a quality brand)
  • Fish or Krill Oil (with 250 mg DHA and 600 mg EPA)
  • Vitamin D3 (1000 IUs per 25 lbs of body weight)
  • Vitamin C (500mg to 2 grams daily)

You should always discuss supplementation with your physician. Many other supplements provide great benefits for your brain. Research nootropics or start your reading here if you would like to go deeper into this topic.

The suggestions above can be used by anyone to enhance your cognitive fitness. You can boost your brains capability by 20% or more and gain greater mental clarity and energy. When you do so you will see an improvement in your attitude, emotions, motivation, resilience, creativity, decision-making, and overall work performance. More importantly, you will become healthier and increase your vitality, love of life, and longevity.

Get my NeuroPeformance white paper for FREE

If you would like to learn more about how to use the neuroscience to become a better leader and help the people you work with you can grab a free copy of my whitepaper called NeuroPerformance: 5 Ways to Use Brain Science to Boost Employee Engagement and Performance.