The beginning of a new year always fills me with optimism. My visions of sugar plums are replaced by dreams of juice cleanses, an organized day planner, a “books I’ve always meant to read” list, and self-care Sundays. What I didn’t account for was my mind resembling a pair of smudged up sunglass lenses. Even after a solid night’s sleep and a shot of B-12, I couldn’t quite clear a funky brain fog that permeated my daily routines. I’d start the morning with the best intentions, but find myself doing things like leaving the house without my wallet or taking Hwy-183 when I meant to take I-35.
So, I found myself up late googling “how to keep your brain sharp.” Sure, I could continue to chalk it up to “quarantine brain” but I’d like to leave that rationale in the giant recycling bin of 2020. If you, like me, are finding yourself in a bit of a brain haze, there are ways to break out of the bubble. I’ve rounded up a few tips and ideas for how to keep your brain sharp and set you on a path to clear out the mental cobwebs and trip up your system with intention.
If hindsight was 2020, foresight is 2021.
Ditch the Morning Routine
Want to know how to keep your brain sharp? Well, if your mornings have looked the same since the mid-2010s, it might be time to do a little rearranging. Whether it’s swapping out your coffee for matcha or changing out your every-day-of-the-week egg and avo taco for a new chia pudding recipe you’ve been dying to try, help boost your brain activity by a routine switcheroo.
Studies show that just five minutes of meditation a day can increase the gray matter in the part of your brain that manages learning and memory. Plus, it can boost self-esteem, help you control stress and anxiety, and deal with those sugar cravings. Sounds like a win/win to us. Here’s our guide to how to finally add this to your list for 2021, whether you’re at home, on a neighborhood walk, or even in the car.
Out With the Old, In With the Newer
Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to sink into the couch cushions and watch reruns of Sex and the City. (Not at all speaking from personal experience—wink wink). Adding something new into your life is how to keep your brain sharp, whether it be a podcast, playlist, or recipe.
Take the Long Cut
Always walking in the same direction or your drive to the grocery store is practically on autopilot? Try walking or driving in a different direction without the use of your iPhone map. And if you get lost in the process? Reroute and chalk it up to extra exercise.
Succumb to the Adult Coloring Book
Never got on board with the whole 2020 adult coloring book craze? Admittedly, we didn’t either. Until we discovered this irreverent one, which simultaneously makes us chuckle and also helps aid in focus in the front lobe of the brain.
Food Is Thy (Brain) Medicine
Incorporating fruits and veggies, Omega-3s, and plenty of whole grains into your diet have been proven to help maintain and even boost brain health. Aim for a Mediterranean Diet with as many superfoods that can fit into your shopping cart. Think blueberries, salmon (wild-caught), avocados, sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds.
Go Old School
When your kids are learning the definition of a word, they don’t immediately pick up a phone to look it up, do they? No. So why wouldn’t adults do the same? Encourage your inner schoolkid by investing in a set of encyclopedias, a dictionary, and a thesaurus then force yourself to look it up the old-fashioned way before turning to Google.
A Class Act
Now is about as good a time as any to finally sign up for an online class in an area or concept you’ve never had the time for before. Whether it’s a beginner’s drawing class over Zoom or an online continuing education course at your local university, the benefits of spending the time and money to learn and grow are two-fold. One, you’ll activate brain cells to help keep them running on all cylinders, and—bonus!—you’ll finally know how to play more than just Chopsticks on the piano.
You Can Dance If You Want To
Can’t commit to an entire semester of online gemology? Instead, add a new dance class into the mix. Try Zumba (a personal fave) or hip hop from one of the greats at the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Burn calories, boost the brain!
Take It to the Mattress
The Mayo Clinic suggests that for optimal body and brain health, adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep. So that nightly tossing and turning may actually be aiding in your brain fog. Try out one—or all—of our tips to achieving your best night’s sleep possible.
Pump the Booze Breaks
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Drinking too much can make your brain circuits inflamed, causing unnecessary brain fog and slowness. Instead, stretch your Dry January into Free February and Mocktail March. Or if you must imbibe, consider just one cocktail. Because, sorry friends, three glasses a night does not a healthy brain make.
Recently our contributing editor Riley gave us a deep-dive on Niksen, the Dutch lifestyle idea that suggests slowing down can stimulate productivity and re-engage your mind by allowing it to breathe. On a walk? Try leaving your phone at home so that instead of filling your mind with more chatter, you’re listening to the sound of your footsteps on the pavement. Have a free moment that could easily be filled with an Instagram scroll or an email check? Walk outside instead and leave the tech behind. Step out into the grass and sit under a tree. Listen and be open and your mind will thank you.