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Do-It-Yourself Brain Improvement


By Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Excerpt From “Use Your Brain to Change Your Age,” Crown Archetype February 2012

No matter your age, income, IQ, or education there are dozens of ways to ways to help your neurons grow, stretch and branch into a younger, more beautiful brain every single day. Here are a few examples:

  1. Learn a new language.  Learning a new language requires that you analyze new sounds, which not only improves auditory processing skills, but also memory.
  2. Play Sudoku. Sudoku is a numbers (not math) game that is both popular and addictively fun to many who play it. It can help increase your logic and reasoning skills, as well as memory. Crossword puzzles do the same.
  3. Lose the list. Using mnemonics (triggers to aid memory using visual imagery or sounds, such as rhyming) is a great way to boost your brain while developing a system to remember things. There are several great memory courses available on audio or video recordings, often at local libraries or online.
  4. Get in the game. Play boards games like chess or Scrabble. Trivia games can boost memory, jigsaw puzzles can help visual and spatial skills and Mah Jong can help executive function (the capacity to control and apply your mental skills).
  5. Online brain training games such as our Brain Gym center at www.theamensolution.com  can be quite helpful in keeping your brain fit.  Spend about 10 minutes a day doing these fun games, and see if you don’t find your brain beginning to process better and faster.
  6. Be a Curious George. Stay curious about life and learning. Read and study or take courses in subjects or the arts or activities that capture your fancy. Be a life-long learner and you’re more likely to stay young at heart and in your brain.
  7. It is never too late to go back to college! “People with fewer academic qualifications may grow old faster, according to a DNA study that compared groups of people who spent different lengths of time in education and found the ones who spent the least time had shorter telomeres or "caps" on the ends of their DNA, a sign of premature aging in cells.”  Think you’re “too old” to earn a degree?  Ask yourself, “How old will you be in four years if you don’t earn a degree?”  The oldest college graduate in the U.S. in her mid-nineties! Already have a degree? How about getting another one? Or go for a variety of  continuing education course, designing your “own degree” in “What I’ve Always Wanted to Learn.”
  8. Learn to play a musical instrument or a different instrument than you normally play.
  9. Try a “brain healthy” sport you’ve never tried.
  10. Try a new brain-healthy recipe perhaps from one of my wife’s cookbooks.
  11. Break your routine. This is especially important for anyone who is tethered to bad habits that are harming your brain. You can increase your chances of staying healthier longer if you change your daily habits and routines. Introducing new habits can help rewire your brain so you don’t fall back into the same patterns of activity. For example, if you always take the same route home to work and stop at your favorite doughnut shop along the way, take a different route to work and bring a home-made brain-healthy protein powder-and-fruit smoothie that you can sip along the way.

Brain Area Specific Work Outs

Here are some work-outs I recommend to help balance six different areas of your brain.

  • Prefrontal cortex (forethought)
    • strategy games, such as chess and checkers
    • meditation boosts prefrontal function
  • Temporal lobes (language and memory)
    • crossword puzzles and word games
    • memory games
  • Basal ganglia (modulate anxiety and motivation)
    • deep relaxation and/or meditation
    • hand-warming techniques
    • diaphragmatic breathing
  • Deep limbic (emotions)
    • killing the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)
    • gratitude practice
    • building libraries of positive experiences to enhance mood states
  • Parietal lobes (direction sense and spatial orientation)
    • juggling
    • interior design
  • Cerebellum (coordination)
    • dancing
    • table tennis (also works prefrontal cortex)
    • martial arts, without risk for brain injury  (also works prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes)
    • handwriting
    • calligraphy

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?  By keeping your brain young, curious and ever-learning new things in this fascinating world of ours, you may find yourself growing younger, rather than older, as the years go by.