Thursday, January 6, 2011

8 Ways To BOOST Our Brainpower

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Research shows there are simple strategies that can boost your brainpower -- no matter how many candles will be on your birthday cake this year. PLS CONTINUE READING.

Next time you're looking for some extra brainpower, go mow the lawn. After years of research, neuroscientists at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, discovered that the scent of fresh-cut grass triggers two sections of the brain -- the amygdala (which deals with emotions) and the hippocampus (which deals with memory).

As a result, taking a whiff of this outdoorsy aroma can help relieve stress and boost memory. But Australian scientists weren't completely surprised that these reactions occurred simultaneously, since chronic stress is directly associated with forgetfulness.

Don't feel like doing yard work? Lighting a scented candle or fragrant oil that smells like fresh-cut grass should also do the trick. 

A research conducted by the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston shows that chewing gum can improve alertness.

Teenagers who chomped away for 14 weeks during math class and while doing math homework scored higher on tests and in their final grades compared to the teens who weren't given gum.

A similar study conducted a few years ago at the University of Northumbria in Newscastle found that people who chewed gum during long-term and short-term memory tests scored better than nonchewers.

While experts haven't pinpointed the link between chewing gum and memory, Japanese researchers believe it may stem from an increased heart rate (thanks to the chewing) that leads to extra oxygen being delivered to the brain.

Talk about a two-for-one deal: According to a German study that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, healthy women between the ages of 50 and 80 who reduced their calorie intake by 30 percent for three months showed a 20 percent improvement on verbal memory tests (not to mention dropped a few pounds).

"According to the researchers, the women who cut calories became more sensitive to the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin and had a drop in blood levels of C-reactive protein -- and both have been linked to an improvement in brain function," said nutritionist Cynthia Sass, co-author of "The Ultimate Diet Log."

To reduce calories without feeling like you're eating less, Sass suggests cutting ground beef recipes in half and substituting the meat with chopped mushrooms or replacing half of the rice or pasta in a dish with diced onions and peppers, shredded carrots, zucchini or cabbage.

As odd (and slightly depressing) as this may sound, a recent Australian study, which was published in the journal Australian Science, has concluded that thinking negatively can actually give the brain a healthy jolt.

Study author Joseph Forgas, psychology professor at the University of New South Wales, showed participants movies, as well as asked them to recall happy and sad memories, in order to stir up both positive and negative emotions.

As a result, those in a "bad place" were less likely to make mistakes when recounting events and were more articulate communicators. "Whereas positive moods seem to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking -- paying greater attention to the external world," wrote Forgas.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that a one-hour nap can dramatically restore brainpower by as much as 40 percent. During the study, 39 young adults were divided into two groups -- those who napped and those who didn't -- and were given tasks to tap into the hippocampus, the region of the brain that stores fact-based memories.

 After a midday sleep session, the nappers showed an improvement in their capacity to learn, while the nonnappers' ability to learn declined.

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead study investigator.

Need to make a presentation at work? Record your bullet points on tape and replay it as you snooze. Neuroscientists at Northwestern University have concluded that the brain can continue learning while it's resting. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers asked participants to memorize the locations of 50 objects accompanied by a sound (e.g., a photo of a cat and a "meow" noise) and displayed on a computer screen.

Participants then napped while researchers played 25 of the sounds. When tested after the nap, volunteers recalled the locations of the 25 objects played during sleep better than the objects not heard during naptime.

While further research is necessary, many scientists believe that while the brain rests, it naturally reboots itself, making factual memories even stronger. 

While you don't want to overdo it, a tad of fat can do wonders for the brain. Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have found that a hormone (oleoylethanolamide) released during the digestion of certain fatty foods can trigger the formation of long-term memories.

Here's why: While previous studies concluded that higher levels of OEA brought on by oleic acids from monounsaturated fatty acids (found in olive oil and avocados) can reduce appetite, this compound can also activate memory-enhancing signals in the amygdala, the part of the brain that handles emotional memories.

And even though the study involved rats, researchers believe these effects hold true for humans, as well. And keep in mind that according to the American Heart Association, the good fats in your diet should not total more than 25 to 35 percent of the calories you consume in a day.

Could it really be this easy? Researchers at the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing have found that increased levels of magnesium improved learning and memory in rats, both young and old.

"Our findings suggest that elevating brain magnesium content via increasing magnesium intake might be a useful new strategy to enhance cognitive abilities," stated study author Guosong Liu. He further explained that memory impairment may be on the rise, especially with the elderly, since most diets are low in magnesium.

Aside from taking a supplement (the recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 420 mg a day for men and 320 mg a day for women), good sources of magnesium are fish, apples, bananas and whole-grain cereals.

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