By Cynthia R. Green, PhD
Brain fitness is a hot topic at work. Our jobs require sharp intellectual performance for everything from recalling important client or product information to learning training materials or just keeping track of key documents. No wonder corporate leaders and entrepreneurs alike have taken notice of this current health trend.
Although the science of brain health remains young, the research clearly indicates that there is much we can do to improve how well we multitask and remember details such as names. Building better brain health can help us boost these skills and also lower our risk of serious memory loss. The findings can be surprising, as they often suggest activities that we don’t usually associate with brain fitness, such as staying socially active or getting regular exercise.
Many of us want to improve our brain health, but aren’t sure what exactly we need to do, or simply can’t imagine putting one more “must-do” item on our list. Improving your brain fitness doesn’t have to be complex, expensive or even time-consuming. The best approach to improving our brain health is one that reflects the current science and blueprints a plan that is practical and actionable. In fact, there are plenty of things we can do to prime our mind while sitting right at our desks.
Here are 10 brain-smart things you can start doing right now to boost your brain power at work. You can do them in 5 minutes, or spend more time on them over the course of the day if your schedule allows. All are geared to giving your brain an awesome on-the-job workout.
1. Rearrange Your Desk.
Clear some clutter from your life. Folks who are organized remember better. Why? Because they have mastered one of the secrets to better memory — getting organized. Spend 5 minutes organizing your desk, getting rid of what is non-essential. Keep out papers that require immediate attention, filing away what you can. Look over how your desk is organized and see if you can think of a better way to put it all together.
2. Read a Poem.
Reading poetry gets us to think out of our workday “box” and is a wonderful source of intellectual challenge and pleasure. Find a poem and spend 5 minutes reading and musing it over. Bring a book of favorite poetry to keep on your desk or visit the website of the Academy of American Poets. You can even sign up for their “Poem a Day” program and get a poem sent to your inbox each day.
3. Take a 5-Minute Yoga Break.
This tip is all about bringing a little “ohm” into your life. Yoga is the perfect brain-health exercise. It supports aerobic workouts by building strength and stamina, trains our focus, and is a terrific resource for maintaining emotional balance. Try taking a 5-minute yoga break (or relaxation break if you are more inclined). The Kripalu Center offers a series of such breaks you can download to your computer or other media player on their website.
Do you doodle? Many of us (including folks such as Bill Gates, former President Clinton and others) do. But did you know that doodling is good for your brain health? Recent research suggests that doodling helps us maintain focus and remember more effectively. A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that subjects assigned a doodling task performed 29% better than their non-doodling counterparts on a surprise memory test covering the material they were learning simultaneously. Doodling improves attention, making it more likely that you will acquire things that you later want to recall. So when you are in a meeting or on a conference call, go ahead and doodle — no need to apologize!
5. Keep Up Your Social Network.
Studies have shown that folks who are more social have an associated reduced risk for memory loss. In one recent study, Harvard researchers found that persons with lower levels of social interaction were much more likely to show memory problems after 6 years than their more social peers. Remember, no man — or woman — is an island. Reach out from behind that desk and connect with your family and friends for 5 minutes. It’s good for your soul and good for your brain.
6. Play Online.
Research has shown that we can better maintain intellectual skills critical to our work performance by giving them a good “workout.” One of the best ways to keep these skills sharp is to play games against the clock, since timed activities force us to focus, think fast and be nimble in our approach. Games we play online tend to be timed and can give our brains a terrific skills challenge. So take 5 minutes during lunch or as your schedule permits to get your brain in the game.
7. Jump Some Jacks.
Here’s a tip that’s pretty basic, but packed with brain boosting power. Aerobic exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain, as it revs up our daily performance and reduces our long-term dementia risk. Jumping jacks are a simple callisthenic exercise you can do in a small space that will quickly get your blood pumping. So go ahead! Stand up at your desk and try out some jumping jacks for 5 minutes.
8. Wear Your Watch Upside Down.
Give your brain a little stretch each time you check your watch by wearing your watch upside down. This subtle change doesn’t take much effort, but will force your brain to think out of its comfort zone in making sense of time gone a bit topsy-turvy. These kinds of “neurobic” activities may seem simple and fun, yet are a terrific way to challenge your brain’s flexibility and routine.
9. Plan Some Brain Healthy Meals.
Invest 5 minutes in laying out a meal plan for the upcoming few days or week. Giving some thought in advance to what you are going to eat will increase the chances that you will make brain healthy food choices. Deciding ahead can also get you organized and save you time shopping and cooking your meals (and who doesn’t need more time?).
10. Learn How to Remember a Name.
Here’s a smart tip we can all really use: Spend 5 minutes learning some simple memory strategies to boost your memory for names. For example, try repeating information as you hear it. This easy technique will force you to focus on what you are learning and give you the chance to rehearse it, increasing the odds that you’ll remember it. Or use my Connections Technique and make a connection between what you are learning and something that you already know. Meeting Florence? Connect her name to a famous Florence, such as Florence Nightingale, or to the city of Florence in Italy.
The next time you have a few minutes at work, use these tips give your brain the workout it deserves and keep it sharp.
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About the Author:
Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., is one of America’s foremost memory fitness and brain health experts. Dr. Green is the founder and president of Memory Arts, LLC, a company that provides memory fitness and brain health training to organizations, corporations, and individuals. She is also an acclaimed author, respected lecturer, and sought-after spokesperson known for her engaging and personable presentation style. Dr. Green has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, 20/20, Fox News, CNBC, and National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation,” as well as in the pages of Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Standard, Good Housekeeping, Prevention, and Parenting, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Dr. Green received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from New York University. Since 1990, she has served on the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she is currently an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry. Dr. Green is a recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, having served as co-principal investigator on a number of clinical trials that evaluated treatments for this condition.
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