Top 10 Ways To Grow Your Brain

by Stephen Mills on April 14, 2009

Brain

That’s right, you can grow your brain!  It was only about ten years ago that scientists discovered that your brain can generate new neurons throughout your entire adult life.  This process is called “Neurogenesis”.

These new cells can take over the function of damaged cells and provide protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s.  They will help you learn faster and retain more of what you learn. You can boost or inhibit this process by various habits and techniques.  I decided to learn those techniques and start giving my brain a growth boost!  Here they are in descending order based upon my view of their relative importance.  This is your action plan for superior brain growth.

  1. Exercise – In addition to the other well known and documented benefits of exercise, we can now add neurogenesis!  The best thing you can do to grow and improve your brain is aerobic exercise.  This is not in dispute.  Of all the reasons to exercise, and there are many, this is the one most responsible for me getting off of my butt and making the time and priority to exercise. I started by just walking.
  2. Eat Blueberries – The ingredient that seems to trigger neurogenesis is anthocyanin.  It can also be found in blackberries, black currant, bilberries, and black raspberries.  Eat dark berries for your brain!  One cup per day of blueberries is enough for the neurogenic effect.
  3. Take Anti-depressant Drugs – I don’t recommend you take anti-depressants, but they are an effective stimulator of new growth so I list it here. It is the truth.  There are a lot of side effects and you don’t need to do this to boost your brain growth.  I was a victim of Dr. Drug for many years.  Do the other nine and forget about this one.
  4. Learn, Learn, Learn – Not only does learning improve as a result of neurogenesis, scientist now believe that learning itself stimulates neurogenesis.  (this should not surprise us) Learn a variety of new things that are unrelated to what you normally do. Variety is key.
  5. Meditation – Practice mindful meditation.  Learn how to practice mindful meditation here. Aside from neurogenesis, mindful meditation will do wonders for your positivity.
  6. Take Care of Your Brain – Anything and everything you do to make your brain healthy will improve neurogenesis.  Protect it and grow it!  How To Take Care of Your Brain
  7. Avoid Caffeine – I know, I know!  I love caffeine too, but its long term impact on your brain is bad.  I would suggest you make a strengthening decision.  Go back to yesterday’s article, How To Take Care of Your Brain,  and read the part about holding your brain in your hands.  Take care of it.  Take the long-term approach.  Your mind will thank you.
  8. Avoid Stress – Stress inhibits neurogenesis so do whatever it takes to reduce it.  Advance Life Skills has a nice article on One Dozen Simple Stress Busters.
  9. Restrict Your Calories – Calorie restriction is a universally agreed upon method for life-extension.  Well, it turns out it is an effective brain extender as well.  Read about  Calorie restricted diets.
  10. Take Ibuprofen – There is evidence that Ibuprofen reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s and can stimulate neurogenesis.  Take small amounts because too much is not good for you.

So how can you start each day with a brain growth boosting routine?  Get up in the morning and eat a cup of blueberries and take an Ibuprofen.  Then do cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes.  The synergistic effect of doing this together will increase your results.  When you are done exercising, meditate for 25 minutes.  Follow that with a low calorie breakfast and have a cup of decaffeinated green tea.

Get on the rocket ship of brain health!  You will not regret it.  Your children and grandchildren will thank you and you will understand what they are saying.  Think about it.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below.  Get Free Updates to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or to a reader in the top left sidebar.  I would love to have you aboard.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Happiness Is Better April 14, 2009 at 6:59 am

Great post! I’m not sure if there is a linear relationship between these exercises and dementia and Alzheimer’s. I would also argue that some of these items mentioned probably don’t do a whole lot after the patient is after a certain point.

My 2 cents,
Dustin

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Mike King April 14, 2009 at 7:57 am

Great list of steps. I wonder how much influence each one really has compared to each other. I’m sure a few are the most really. Personally, I think learning is the most important.

One that isn’t on the list is related to dreams. REM sleep is also a time when the brain is growing neural connections and so practicing quality sleep cycles with regular REM stages is helpful for growth as well. Even the dream analysis and dream study area is one that has been found to expand the brain’s growth.

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Marc and Angel Hack Life April 14, 2009 at 8:48 am

Solid tips. ;-)

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Lisis | Quest For Balance April 14, 2009 at 9:14 am

You’re killin’ me with #1 and #7… I may just have to write those neurons off. I was really surprised by #3, though; I’ve never heard that bit of science.

Great list… especially without 1 and 7.

;-)

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ChristiaanH April 14, 2009 at 10:28 am

A very interesting read although I don’t know if taking a painkiller and NSAID every day (ibuprofen) would be a good idea.

I agree with the other points though (apart from the anti-deps) .. the foremost being keep learning, keep using your brain or you’ll loose it. Meditation also is a great way of helping your brain. For it takes the form of zazen meditation every evening to unwind.

You just inspired me to write a blogpost on the brain. I’ll linkback if you don’t mind. (Will be a few days..)

Greets, Christiaan

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Robin Easton April 14, 2009 at 11:15 am

Hi Stephen, Something I would add to this list for me and is somewhat related to the stress or meditation issues you raise, and that would be giving my brain a total break by doing nothing, no thinking, not reading, not working, etc. I guess people achieve this in different ways. Some through meditations of various kinds that leave the mind “empty” and so forth. For me it is simply being in nature away from all linear things like the computer. In nature my mind just stops, which seems to not only recharge me physically but also mentally. I come back clearer.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

These are some great tips Stephen,

I totally agree with 8 out of 10. Personally, I feel that manmade chemicals such as NSAIDS or anti-depressants do way more harm than good and should be avoided. Healthy liver function is vital for the production of many of the amino acids necessary for good brain health.

All manmade chemicals inhibit liver function as does caffeine and alcohol. I would suggest that a combined program of brain nutrients and a reduced-fat diet as a healthier alternative. A good group of essential core nutrients would include: Vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, co-enzyme Q-10,,DHA, phophatidylserine, and L-Glutamine. There are many others that support brain health, but this is a good place to start.

This is a wonderful new category for your blog and your own passion is evident in your writing. I have enjoyed each article so far and eagerly look forward to more.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 14, 2009 at 1:13 pm

@All, thank you for the comments. I found out on Twitter that I was making controversial posts and had to come read it!

@Mike, I think there is fairly strong agreement that exercise may be the most important. Learning does stimulate new growth, but learning is much faster when new growth is occurring from other factors. At least that is the way I read all of this science. There is also a lot of evidence I believe, that we purge a lot of connections, clean them up so to speak, during sleep and dreaming. I need to read up on the dreaming stuff some more. Thanks for the heads up. I think reducing stress may be one of the most important single things you can do for your brain health, not to mention the rest of your body! Thanks for stopping by.

@Happiness Is Better, I think you are right about the “too late” part. That’s why it’s so important to have those healthy reserves built up as a preventative measure.

@Lisis, that was funny! I guess my #3 is the controversial part, but notice I didn’t recommend it. But from what I’ve ready, some scientists believe the effectiveness of the SSRI’s comes from their neurogenic properties. This science is in its infancy and we will learn a lot more in the next few years.

@Marc, thanks!

@ChristiaanH, I took Ibuprofen by the bottles in the past and also double the maximum daily dose of certain anti-depressants. This was part of the drug cocktail prescribed by my local neighborhood health professionals and specialists. My brain went into the toilet during that time so of course I wouldn’t recommend anyone “drug it up”. I’ve thought about taking an Ibuprofen every morning, but I haven’t decided to do it yet. I took too many drugs for a long time to get back into that.

@Robin, excellent point. The brain does get tired and needs to recharge its neurotransmitter stores. My walks in the sun and nature do that for me. Not needing to think, but just enjoying the trees, squirrels, and birds. Thanks!

@Jonathan, I guess what you mean is that you would support doing 8 out of 10 of them. I think the evidence is clear that SSRI’s stimulate neurogenesis, but you and I both think that drugs in general do more harm than good (with some exceptions of course). Too much exercising is bad for you, and so whatever we do we must take into consideration the total impact and the total context. I believe technology can be both good and bad. We are living longer and yet we are killing ourselves at the same time. We have to take the good and the bad and find the best balance. The most important thing is that everyone do what they feel is best for them. I’m not taking SSRI’s for neurogenesis, but I’m glad somebody figured out they have that effect and told me about it. There may be a point or a situation where that would benefit me and the benefits would exceed the harm. I know some companies are working on drugs that isolate just the properties that stimulate the neurogenesis without the other harmful side-effects. This holds incredible promise for those with damaged brains, and I personally believe that one day we will get to the point that it works safely for healthy brains as well. In the meantime I’m on board with going as natural as possible. That’s the safest approach. BTW, I take every item on your list except Ginkgo.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm

@ Robin, The thinking process has a tendency to pull us out of the moment while the act of experiencing helps us to live in the moment. Both have their place but modern life makes it challenging to disengage from too much thinking. Nature seems to act as a powerful balancing agent if we give it a chance. When we lay our hand on a big oak (as Stephen likes to do), even our thoughts center on the experience and help restore our balance.

@Stephen, as you can tell I don’t put much stock in pharmaceuticals. They may seem like effective management tools for certain conditions but I believe there is always a healthier alternative available. Admittedly though, It may not be as convenient. I am impressed that you take the nutrients I mentioned. That tells me that you have really done your research and taken action on what you have learned. Ginkgo will thin your blood a bit and for some that can pose a threat. I have gotten good results using it but needed higher doses then the common recommendations.

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Sherri (Serene Journey) April 14, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Hi Stephen,
Good tips. I’ve heard of some of these before but there are a few new and interesting ones in here…helping me out with point 4 :)

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Alik Levin | PracticeThis.com April 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I am a coffee junkie. After reading this one the bell rang in my head ;) . Moving to something less damaging. Guess tea should work well.

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Stretch November 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Felt so hopeless looking for answers to my quisetons…until now.

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pteorq November 9, 2011 at 7:11 am
Roger | A Content Life April 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Stephen,

Excellent practical advice!

I had read about point #4 and neuroscience research. Apparently, if you don’t use your ability to learn, you’ll lose your ability to learn.

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Glen Allsopp April 14, 2009 at 7:18 pm

In all honest I’m surprised you mentioned 3 + 10, although they may work, if you don’t recommend them then why include them?

Apart from that though, I completely agree with the other points and like your explanations.

Tweeted + Stumbled!

Cheers,
Glen

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Terry October 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm

You get a lot of respect from me for writing these helpful aritlecs.

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Juancav April 14, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Wonderful advices.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 14, 2009 at 8:30 pm

@Jonathan, I am a big fan a supplementing for optimal health and for reasons of personal history the brain is one area I pay a lot of attention to.

@Alik, the caffeine one is difficult because it has some benefit to the brain as well. However, when I discovered it inhibited neurogenesis I decided to cut it. Since I have some brain health issues already, every little bit is important. Also, most of the people whose advice I value say to limit caffeine.

@Roger, Thanks for stopping by. Continual learning is one of the best things you could possibly do to make you a more effective human being. The fact that it also helps your brain in a physical way is a big bonus!

@Glen, thanks for stopping by and for your support! I’ll tell you why I listed them. SSRI’s are powerful boosters of neurogenesis. That is information that may be important and very valuable to some people and in their particular situation it may be a good thing. I don’t think information is bad. As far as Ibuprofen I am personally on the fence about whether to use it or not. As long as you stay below the maximum I don’t think they cause many problems. Once again it’s a personal decision and I would rather people have the information.

@All, thank you so much for all the conversation!

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 14, 2009 at 8:32 pm

@Juancav, thanks for stopping by and welcome!

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Sonia Gallagher April 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Very good post. I can honestly say that mediation does have an incredible impact on the mind. The practice of regular mediation makes the person more calm, less reactive to external stressors, and more in control of their lives. Meditation can also make you feel more compassion for others and lead you to understand that our reality as we see it is not real. Depending on the type of meditation you choose to practice, you gain specific benefits. There are many meditation techniques and its important to learn about each of them when deciding which to choose in starting to meditate.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 15, 2009 at 12:50 pm

@Sherri, your welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

@Sonia, thank you for leaving your comments. I really need to meditate better. Thanks for the link, it looks great!

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Rachel July 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Hey Stephen, are you sure it was ibuprofen and not baby aspirin? That’s what I’ve heard in the past. Great posts, I love the posts on Dopamine, Seratonin, acetylcholine, and GABA. I have subscribed since reading them and hope you continue writing on neuroscience. :)

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james c great November 22, 2011 at 7:40 am

its a great experience i like happens here

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Julia Warhol September 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

If I ate one cup of blueberries a day by Wednesday I would be in the bathroom the rest of the week.

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Teresa October 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I am a musician and teacher. I would have to agree that learning anything new is hard work, but that work is what keeps the brain young and healthy. Great tips!
Teresa´s last [type] ..The Exceptional Memory Lie People Like To Believe

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Ethan Poltrack October 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Growing my mind everyday helps fight off the evil just by keeping a positive state of mind.  I sometimes slip off but less and less.  It’s amazing how those little things that you can not necessarily see can have the greatest impact.

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