Working Out Your Brain

Being in the midst of a busy college semester, we may feel like our brains are constantly running at full capacity. But is that really the case? At times when we think we are kicking it into high gear for the midterm paper or big exam, we might not truly be focused at all. It's not just about focusing on what you are doing, but also being mindful of what you're doing as you're doing it.

What's the distinction? You could think you're focused on the task at hand, but actually be more focused on the fight you had with a friend two days before. This process is often unconscious, but we do it all the time.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a clinical mindfulness expert at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defined mindfulness to Live Science as "awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, nonjudgmentally."

As college students, we often do things that are damaging to our brains and our minds without even realizing it. Things like a poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation are all connected to brain troubles.

It's important to be attentive. As we age, so do our brains, and we're not getting any younger. Just as going to the gym might improve your physique, exercising your brain will help your memory and level of attentiveness. Both are things that we lose as we get older.

The following are some ways to keep your brain as healthy as the rest of you:


Meditation helps cultivate the mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn recommends to increase focus. These practices will help improve your attention and reduce your stress level. Reducing stress is one of the best ways to give your brain a rest and keep positive energy flowing throughout your entire body.

Aerobic exercise

Just like working out helps improve your heart and lungs, exercise can also help keep your brain in its best shape ever. Exercising increases the blood flow to all areas of the body, which betters your circulation. This helps prevent diseases like diabetes that, though it may not seem like it, can have an effect on your brain. Doctors recommend 30 minutes of exercise every other day to keep your brain and your body happy and healthy.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet refers to not eating too much or too little. Overindulging can slow your brain function, while under eating deprives you of essential nutrients that improve your cognition. Make sure that the foods you eat are high in fiber and low in sugar, because foods that are easily digested allow better energy flow to your brain. Some of the foods that doctors recommend are fish and–as crazy as it may sound–coffee. The antioxidants found in these foods can help improve cognition later, and the omega in fish is an excellent brain nutrient. Crazy dieting can lead to memory impairment and confusion, so avoid unhealthy techniques to lose or gain weight. Instead, eat small amounts frequently throughout the day, so your body can process nutrients more easily.


I know it's a rough request to make for college students, but sleep is absolutely essential. When we sleep, our mind is working at full capacity. We are dreaming and sifting through memories, some we save and others we throw out. If we aren't sleeping–either not enough or not well–proteins can build up in the brain, which make it harder to think and learn new things. Consciously make an effort to go to bed early, because prime sleep hours are when all of our healthy hormones are produced. Skip the late night activities and make up for it with a more successful morning because you were well rested.

Mind Games and Puzzles

While there isn't a lot of research on the specific benefits that brain teasers provide, just working your brain by learning new puzzles helps to improve its function and cognition in the long run. A lack of learning can lead to mental impairment, and it only gets harder to learn as you get older. Now is the time to challenge your mind by trying new puzzles and tricks. Sudoku puzzles, crosswords and word searches are an easy way to exercise your most valuable muscle. Other books offer brainteasers with riddles and number games to help keep you on your toes. But most importantly, you need to mix it up. Doing the same puzzle over and over again will do nothing for your brain, so challenge yourself by trying new ones often.