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Cognitive performance is all the rage. As we’ve moved from a hunter-gatherer society through an agricultural system, and come out the other side as intellects with big brains obsessed with and reliant on screens, we’ve had ample time to navel-gaze. And all that time we once spent hunting and foraging is now spent improving mind, memory and all-round cognitive performance.
Of course, our brain works differently at different parts of the day, which is something to bear in mind.
Still, in the pursuit of enhanced brain power, we can try all sorts of things, such as improving our sleep, upping our exercise and consuming more superfoods.
But it’s not just these activities that can help to improve mental cognition. There are a great variety of hobbies said to do just that, and we’ll take you through a few of them here.
We’re starting with one of the most obvious ones, as parents have been pushing their kids to read for centuries. In a world of computer screens, bright lights and unsettling beeps and bops, reading is a way of removing yourself from the chaos, and conjuring up an imagined world. It does wonders for your imagination, and can improve our emotional intelligence. There’s even evidence it can delay the onset of dementia. It can be great for sleeping too, if you get into the habit of reading before bed.
Poker is a great way to get your brain working in tense, adrenaline-fuelled scenarios. When you start to advance in poker meanwhile, you also begin to focus more on calculating pot odds and working out various probabilities in your head. This basically means figuring out from a mathematical standpoint what your chances are of winning a given bet or landing a certain collection of cards. Doing this in quite nervy circumstances will be great practice for your cognitive abilities, and will make future calculations performed under less duress a breeze by comparison.
Puzzles have been around for centuries, and have long been a great way to stay entertained and cognitively aware. They’re an ideal method for increasing our mental elasticity. If you see the brain as a muscle, imagine working it out by playing with puzzles. Today, you have a great choice of puzzles both digital and real-world to keep your mind focussed and sharp. Some people still enjoy setting up 1,000 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on their table, and mulling over it for days. Others like to tap into some of the fun and innovative puzzle games on their smart phones and other consoles.
Learning a foreign language
Learning a foreign language is one of the best ways to improve your cognitive performance. And there’s nothing quite like showing off at parties with your fluency in another lingo. Not only will it open doors to you that were previously bordered off by an impenetrable language, but it will allow you to better empathise with different people, and understand how those in non-English speaking countries might think and communicate differently. The language centres of the brain are flexible, so adding a new one improves your ability to focus.
The final hobby on our list appears at first sight to be something of a physical – rather than mental – endeavour. Yet, we know that a protein produced by exercise called BDNF is linked to better memory and focus. In one test, a group was asked to exercise before memorising photos, and performed far better than a control group who hadn’t exercised. So, make sure you’re working out a few times a week.