Beyond using exercises or learning a new language, it’s easy to introduce daily strategies to improve your concentration. Like any skill, practice makes perfect. But it doesn’t have to take vast quantities of time or energy. With a few simple lifestyle shifts, we can cultivate a clear mind and lead more productive lives. Here are five effortless ways to boost memory and concentration for the better.
1. Take a Break From Email
Today, we take for granted that multitasking is business as usual in our modern life. However, backing away from email and other rapid window shifting activity on devices can improve your concentration.
Dr. Kenneth Freundlich of Morris Psychological Group, a neuropsychologist, believes our current information overload is significantly impacting our memory and ability to focus. When our working memory (the short-term function we use daily to process, remember and use information) is bombarded with more information than it can process, our concentration suffers.
Contributing to information overload is when we quickly shift between windows while using our devices. This creates stress since our brains are designed to focus on a single task at a time. And stress lowers our ability to concentrate.
Likewise, the interruption of checking email can destroy focus. Dr. Freundlich points out that it takes time for our brain to switch from one task to another. When we’re interrupted by email, text or calls, it can take 10 to 24 minutes for our full focus to return to the original task.
To help improve your concentration, minimize distractions and interruptions while working. Establish set blocks of time to check email, text, and voicemail messages. Better yet, take an email sabbatical for a day or two. You’ll reduce your stress load and enjoy sharper memory along with increased focus.
If you want to take it a step further, consider removing push notifications from your phone and computer. Similar to email, whenever we interrupt the task at hand our concentration suffers.
2. Surround Yourself with Nature
Speaking of stress, one sure-fire way to reduce it in your life is to take a walk in the woods or through an urban park. A hearty dose of outdoor “green time” not only will improve your concentration but also leads to happier moods and less worry.
Consider this experiment in Japan. Participants strolled through either a forest or urban center while having their salivary cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability measured. The researchers found that those who walked in forests had higher heart rate variability and lower heart rates than their city street strolling counterparts. Pulse rate and the stress hormone cortisol levels were lower as well.
Harvard Health agrees. When city-dwellers took a walk in a natural setting, they experienced lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol. Participants also experienced reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that becomes activated during periods of rumination and negative thinking.
According to Dr. Strauss, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, when people are under high levels of stress, the function of the prefrontal cortex can be impaired. He believes that spending time in nature soothes this area of the brain and reduces stress. Interestingly, the therapeutic effect can also be experienced through a simple daily walk in the park or while cycling through green spaces. Try it for 20-30 minutes, three days a week. In short, taking a break in a natural setting is a rewarding habit that can ultimately help to improve your concentration.
If you don’t have a chance to visit a green space, not to worry. Houseplants in your environment can strengthen concentration and create a sense of calm. This study found that including plants in an office space not only improved concentration among the workers, but also increased workplace satisfaction and productivity.
3. Get Solid Sleep
We all know that restorative sleep is vital for our well-being. It’s especially important if you would like to improve your concentration. And yet, many times we find that decent sleep takes second fiddle to other life demands. The key is to prioritize bedtime routines. Before long, you’ll find these healthy sleep efforts become habit—and you’ll reap all the benefits of having deep, restorative rest. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Avoid devices two hours before bedtime. Exposure to blue light from computers, tablets, and smartphones tells your body it’s time to be awake and active—not the ideal when you need solid sleep. If you find yourself on a device in the evening, lessen the effect by switching to Night Shift on your iPad and iPhone. It minimizes blue light with warmer tones on your screen. Software is available for your computer too.
- Go to bed at the same time each night, including weekends. This will help train your circadian rhythm. Deepest sleep occurs between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
- Keep your room dark and cool. Any kind of artificial light can disrupt melatonin production in the evening. Make sure to turn off devices and cover digital alarm clocks. A light-blocking eye mask or blackout curtains could very well be your new best friend.
- Have a regular bedtime routine. Consider soothing activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath or listening to soft music. They signal it’s time to wind down and sleep. The more we stick to these routines, the stronger our healthy sleep habits become.
4. Eat a Brain-Boosting Diet
It makes sense that better brain function will help improve your concentration and memory. After all, when our brains are working well, we have clarity of mind and sharp focus. This is where diet plays a major role. When we eat tried-and-true brain food, we’re providing the fuel to keep our minds humming. Top picks include:
- Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout
- Strawberries and blueberries
- Green, leafy vegetables, including spinach and kale
The MIND diet was developed for older generations at risk of dementia. It’s also a terrific choice for people of any age who would like to boost their brainpower. A combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, it’s a powerful tool to improve your concentration. So what should we eat? Besides the food list above, the MIND diet also recommends:
- Nuts (five or more servings per week)
- Olive Oil
- Poultry (twice a week or more)
- Whole grains (at least three servings per day)
- Beans (four or more meals each week)
- Red wine (one glass per day, no more)
As you can see, it’s an all-around healthy, whole-food diet. Considering this, you want to steer clear of:
- Butter and margarine (one tablespoon or less/day)
- Cheese (one serving per week or less)
- Red meat (less than three servings a week)
- Fried food (avoid)
- Pastries and sweets, processed junk food (avoid)
5. Stay Hydrated
Lastly, don’t forget about water. Staying well-hydrated is an often overlooked habit to improve your concentration. The brain is quite sensitive to hydration levels in the body. Even mild dehydration as low as 1% of body weight can impair brain function. So it’s important to drink plenty of water or non-caffeinated tea as you go about your day.
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