Boost Your Brain Power

Friday, January 20, 2012

You don't need to be Einstein to have plenty of brain power. You just need to take stock of your lifestyle, writes Beverley Hadgraft.

If you want to get more from your brain and improve your memory, then you may want to read John Medina's bestselling book Brain Rules (Scribe, $24.95).

Officially, Medina is a developmental molecular biologist, research consultant and director of the Brain Centre for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, in the US. Unofficially, he's a "grumpy scientist" who won't accept any theory unless it's been thoroughly investigated, replicated and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Here are a few of his recommendations.

Take a nap
If you're feeling sleepy mid-afternoon, it's quite normal. Your brain wants a nap and you'd be well advised to take one. In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots' performance by 34 percent. Another study showed that a 45-minute nap produced a similar boost in cognitive performance lasting more than six hours. No wonder enlightened businesses, including Google, are introducing high-tech 'nap pods' into their offices.

Getting the picture
Trying to learn Spanish? Surrounding yourself with Spanish artefacts and pictures can help because when the environmental clues are encountered again, they help you remember your new language skills. The same goes for most new skills from bush first-aid to car maintenance. Learning it in the environment where you'll be practising it, rather than a classroom, will help with recall.

Make it personal
We remember things much better if we can give them a personal meaning and associate them with information already present in the brain. For example, say you were asked to memorise the following list of words: Table, ten, apple, tractor, countertop, jump.

Learned by rote it would be impossible to remember them for more than a few minutes. However, if you envisaged a farmer gathering the apples in his tractor and giving them to your grandmother to make your favourite apple pie, which went from her countertop to the table where it was so delicious it made you jump for joy and give it ten out of ten, the memory would have a lot more stickability!

More complexity leads to greater learning because we're engaged more deeply in encoding the information in our brains.

Ditch the multi-tasking

If you're trying to write a report about an unfamiliar subject and get distracted and start surfing the net instead, studies indicate you'll take up to 50 percent longer to finish that report than someone who gives it their full attention. You'll also make 50 percent more errors.

Similarly, if you drive while talking on a mobile phone, you'll be half a second slower to hit the brakes in an emergency and more wild in your estimation of the distance between you and the vehicle in front. More than 50 per cent of visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by mobile phone users. Eating, fiddling with the radio and putting on make-up are also distractions which will make you more likely to crash.

Multi-taskers often seek praise, but the truth is that they are actually less productive and make more mistakes. So the message is turn off your email and phone and create an interruption-free zone during your day.

For the full story, see the February issue of Good Health. Subscribe to 12 issues of GoodHealth for only $59.95 and receive an Invisible Zinc Pack, valued at $34.90.

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