Our ability to learn and remember is dependent on more than just the hours we spend studying a subject. Our daily activities can limit the cognitive declines associated with aging and can improve the parts of our brain that are responsible for learning and memory. Here are 4 easy ways you can boost your brain power.
Increase exercise intensity.
All exercise helps boost mood and brain activity, but intense exercise may be more beneficial for learning. A study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory found that vocabulary learning was 20% faster after high intensity exercise (sprinting) when compared to lower intensity exercise and rest.
Tip: Add 30 to 60 second bouts of jogging to your walking routine, or incorporate short sprints into your run. Both will increase the intensity of your workouts.
Eat apples and onions.
These foods contain the flavonoid quercetin. This antioxidant has been found to protect brain cells from the free radical damage that leads to cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Tip: Add thinly sliced apples and onions to your green salads, or make a Waldorf salad using chopped apples, diced onion, dried cranberries, Greek yogurt, and honey.
Start strength training.
Strength training is an important component of an effective exercise regimen. It builds muscle to make daily activities easier, tones the body to change the way you look, and it can help you better maintain your weight loss. If these benefits haven’t convinced you to strengthen your muscles, research now suggests that it will also help your brain. A recent study found that resistance exercise improved learning and memory as much as aerobic exercise.
Tip: Pumping iron at the gym isn’t a requirement. Add equipment-free moves to your workouts 2-3 days per week with push-ups, dips, squats, lunges, and abdominal exercises.
Taking time to clear your mind and meditate can have a significant influence on your mental wellbeing. One study shows it will boost your brain power as well. In the study, people who meditated for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed positive changes in the density of gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory.
Tip: Start by setting aside 5 minutes per day to be silent and focus on your breathing. Gradually add more time to your meditation sessions each week.
Foods eaten at the peak of their season not only offer the best flavor, but they overflow with nutrients. Scientists continually discover new components in these fresh foods that benefit our health. The healthy qualities of these fall foods will give you even more reasons to fill your plate.
Always considered a nutritious food, apples have more recently made health news due to quercetin. This antioxidant not only helps to prevent cellular damage, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin prevents the release of histamines leading researchers to believe it could reduce symptoms of allergies.
Tip: Keep the skin on. According to University of Illinois Extension, almost half of the vitamin C in an apple is located just under the skin. The skin also contains nutritious fiber.
Move over carrots, pumpkins promote healthy vision too. Pumpkin contains lutein and zeaxanthin which are associated with preventing cataracts and reducing risk for macular degeneration. Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Tip: Orange-flesh winter squash share these health benefits. A few varieties to look for: Cinderella pumpkins, Kabocha, Cushaw, Butternut squash, and Delicata squash.
Crunchy purple cabbage contains sinigrin, which is converted to an isothiocyanate compound with unique properties linked to cancer prevention. The purple variety has a slight advantage over green cabbage due to anthocyanin pigments. These polyphenols act as antioxidants to protect against chronic disease. Cabbage is also packed with vitamin C, and because cabbage is often eaten raw in salads and slaws, the vitamin C isn’t destroyed during cooking.
Tip: Top tacos with shredded purple cabbage instead of iceberg lettuce for a boost of nutrients, flavor, and texture.
Related to garlic and onions, leeks are part of the allium family, but they get much less attention for their star nutrient content. Leeks contain the flavonoid kaempferol which has been shown to prevent damage to the lining of blood vessels making leeks beneficial for cardiovascular health. Leeks also provide folate. Folate has been found to balance homocysteine levels to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Tip: The whole leek is edible, but the highest concentration of nutrients are found in the lower leaf and bulb.
Tart, red cranberries contain polyphenols with anti-bacterial properties, which reduce risk of urinary tract infections. Whole cranberries also have anti-cancer properties and provide antioxidants. This berry promotes a healthy cardiovascular system and digestive tract because it reduces the inflammation that is associated with disease.
Tip: Chop fresh cranberries in a food processor, and add them to salads and cereals for tart flavor and extra crunch.
A snack helps you push through a tough workout, but eat the wrong thing and you may have to check out of the gym early. Everyone is different, so determining the best foods and the best time to eat them is a learning process. These tips will help you pick the right snack whether you exercise morning, noon, or night.
Before Your Workout
The Mayo Clinic suggests that large meals be eaten at least 3 to 4 hours before a workout, small meals 2 to 3 hours before, and small snacks about 1 hour before. Choose foods that are balanced in carbohydrate and protein, and low in fat and fiber. Each person tolerates fat and fiber differently so experiment with food options to find what works best for you.
½ of an English muffin topped with 2 scrambled egg whites. (94 calories)
½ cup of cherry tomatoes with a ½ cup of low fat cottage cheese. (112 calories)
1/4 cup of oatmeal prepared with water and mashed with a ½ of a banana, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. (135 calories)
20 mini pretzels with 2 tablespoons of hummus. (156 calories)
2 slices of unsweetened dried mango and 2 tablespoons of shelled pumpkin seeds. (140 calories)
1/4 cup of low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt topped with a ¼ cup of brown puffed rice cereal, and a ¼ cup of blueberries. (118 calories)
After Your Workout
Eat within two hours of finishing a hard workout to replenish muscle glycogen stores. Depending on the time of day you exercise, this may be a full meal, or it might be a small snack that gets you through to lunch or dinner. Choose foods that are balanced in protein and carbohydrate, but add more heart-healthy fat and fiber during your recovery. Also, include foods with high water content such as fruits and vegetables for rehydration.
A smoothie made with 1 cup of low fat milk, a ¼ cup of vanilla Greek yogurt, a ½ cup of frozen blackberries, a ½ cup of kale leaves, and 1 teaspoon of honey. (286 calories)
3 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon of almond butter and 1 teaspoon of honey, with 1 cup of red grapes for dipping. (219 calories)
A wrap with 1 whole wheat tortilla, 2 tablespoons of mashed avocado, 2 slices of smoked turkey, ¼ cup of shredded romaine lettuce, and 2 teaspoons of spicy brown mustard. (232 calories)
1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes mixed with 2 tablespoons of diced olives, a ½ cup of white cannellini beans, a ½ tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and two chopped basil leaves. (212 calories)
1 cup of prepared black bean soup, and 1 piece of whole wheat bread topped with avocado spread (2 tablespoons of smashed avocado mixed with 1 tablespoon of prepared salsa). (270 calories)
1 cup of chopped, grilled summer squash drizzled with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 2 ounces of chopped, cooked chicken over ½ cup of whole wheat pasta. (302 calories)
As long as you stay within your daily caloric requirement, a bedtime snack will not ruin your efforts to lose weight. If you eat an early dinner, and can’t stomach a snack before a morning workout, a snack before bedtime can be beneficial. Be sure to keep it light so that it doesn’t disrupt your sleep.
1 sliced banana drizzled with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter that has been heated for 20-30 seconds in the microwave. (215 calories)
1/4 cup of dried tart cherries and a ½ ounce of raw walnuts. (220 calories)
Hot chocolate made with 1 cup low fat milk, 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. (144 calories)
Soaking oats overnight is an easy way to have a quick and healthy breakfast ready to go first thing in the morning. The milk and yogurt create a creamy cereal that is delicious straight out of the refrigerator.
Tips for the cook: Any type of milk, yogurt and fruit can be used in your oats. Stir fruits that brown easily (apples, bananas) into the oatmeal. Berries and stone fruits can be placed on top of the oats before sealing and refrigerating. Save crunchy toppings like nuts or seeds to add just before serving so that they don’t soften overnight.
Serving Size 1 recipe
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2.8g
2%Saturated Fat 0.5g
Trans Fat 0g
Total Carbohydrate 37.7g
Dietary Fiber 4.4g
The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.