Summer is coming to a close soon for many of us. Going back to school can be exciting for those of us who love to work our minds to the fullest every single day. However, the majority of us tend to suffer from “Summer Brain Drain,” where our brains become lazy due to severe learning loss after the school year finishes. This feeling of inner lethargy overtakes most of us as we spend our vacation months in full relaxation mode. If you feel you have suffered from the pains of summer brain drain for the past few months, then don’t worry! There’s still plenty of time to train your brain before school starts so that we can enter into the new school year with a productive attitude and a strong brain ready for success!
- In the US, most schools have a 3 month summer vacation
- We start forgetting information as soon as 1 day after learning new information, but after 30 days we only remember about 2-3% of what we've learned!
- According to Dr. Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, students lose about 1-3 months of learning during summer break. This means that teachers must invest at least 4-6 weeks in order to re-teach past material that students should already know coming into the new school year. Therefore, if students return to school at the beginning of September, they might be spending all their school days re-learning old material until Halloween.
- Watching TV is a passive activity and requires very little work on our brain's part. Do something that makes your brain work!
- Sleep is always good, as long as it's restorative and not out of boredom. Our bodies need sleep to help us integrate all of the new information we've learned!
One great point to note is that anyone can strengthen his or her brain power at any age! Many people have the misconception that only adolescents and adults in their 20s to 30s have the potential to increase their brain stamina, but this is not true. Due to neuroplasticity, where the brain gradually forms new neural pathways and reacts to changing circumstances, our brains have the ability to adapt to any situation, even in old age.
Neuroplasticity is what will guide our brains to reach its ultimate manpower. Once you build positive learning habits and regularly engage in beneficial activities for your brain, the neurons in your brain will increase and the pre-existing ones will be strengthened even more than before. This will help you to improve in your cognitive abilities, enhance your learning potential, and widen your field of memory.
Here are 15 Tips to Train Your Brain Before School Starts:
Probably one of the most important ways to keep your brain in tip-top shape is to exercise! Working out your body will increase the levels of oxygen flowing to your brain and will reduce your risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It can even prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Usually, for patients suffering from many physical and mental illnesses, their first suggestion for wellness is to exercise. Even if you’re not really into cardio or heavy-weight training, a simple 30-minute jog will do just the trick!
Exercising regularly enhances the release of special neurotransmitters called endorphins. These include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which contribute to your overall mood and reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
Also, exercise contributes to neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new interneuron connections.
If you want to improve your brain functioning on multiple levels, then you should read more in your spare time. Whether it be from fictional novels to real-life narratives to articles in your favorite magazine, reading is one of the best ways to strengthen the higher-order thinking processes of your brain. Plus, reading allows you to become more creative in your thoughts, your actions, and your conversations with others!
In a study performed at Emory University titled, “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” researchers found that becoming immersed in a fictional novel enhances connections of neurons in the brain and improves overall brain function. Also, they found that reading fiction was found to strengthen a reader’s ability to put himself in another person’s shoes, empathize, and imagine in a way similar to actual visualization (meaning, the readers were able to imagine the stories read as though they were actual movies being watched).
To find out more about how reading enhances brain functioning, check out this article: “Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Functioning,” by Christopher Bergland.
3. Learn a new language
It doesn’t matter how old you are. It is never too late to diversify your tongue with a new language! In a study led by Dr. Thomas Bak at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, he found that young adults proficient in a second language performed significantly better on attention and concentration tests than their counterparts who only knew one language, irrespective of whether they had learned that language during infancy, childhood, or adolescence.
If you feel it might be difficult to learn a new language, then there are plenty of easy resources available today. Programs like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Mondly by ATi Studios and more offer apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone so you can gradually work your way into different languages. You can tune-in to videos on the Internet with instructors who specialize in various languages. Also, foreign films are great to watch if you really want to pick up a second language like a pro! Try watching a foreign film with the subtitles on once or twice, then watch it again a few times without the subtitles and see how many phrases and expressions you understand.
4. Old-Fashioned Puzzles
If you want to increase your cognitive abilities, then regular puzzles are great! They train your brain so that you become better in problem-solving skills and recognition of minor details. To get working, you should try your hand at jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word searches, and even games of “Where’s Waldo?”
5. Get involved in a brain training program
Many companies today have developed amazing resources for you to use to boost your brain power. To cater to your convenience, CogniFit brain games offers personalized brain training programs that will target your specific cognitive needs. They also have programs available to help with some learning disorders that may affect your little ones!
6. Challenge your learning capabilities!
Find a subject you are really interested in or a topic that you want to learn more about. Immerse yourself fully into the subject by utilizing all the free assets available at your fingertip. If you register with Coursera.org, they provide many college-level courses that you can follow in a variety of fields, either free of charge or for a small fee. You can follow special channels on social media pages like Crash Course or TedEd to gain plenty of useful knowledge. Also, subscribe to magazines and online newspapers that specialize in your favorite fields, like Psychology Today, Live Science, The New Yorker, and more.
7. Find an artsy way to express yourself
8. Visit as many museums and live performances as you can
Museums and exhibits increase our exposure to different forms of art, innovative ideas, and great skills of fellow human beings. Do some research on local museums and try to devote a few hours in your free time to see what is available. Whether it be from fine art to photography, anatomy, feelings, or poetry, there are so many sites to visit. Museums, spoken word café nights, operas, or even high school orchestras are great to awaken the mind and get your creative juices flowing.
9. Recreational outdoor activities
Work your body in ways you have never done before. Become more in-tuned with nature or just try new activities. This will stimulate neuroplasticity in your brain so that you can adapt to new environments and enjoy yourself in the process. Try hiking, rafting, canoeing, rock-climbing, skiing, jet-surfing, and any other fun activity you can think of!
One of the best ways to increase your brain’s potential is to learn how to memorize. Whether it be from a religious text, any special author’s quotes, song lyrics, poetry verses, you name it, try to memorize. That way, you will gain experience in what methods are best for you in retaining information. Some practical ways of memorizing particular statements, concepts, or ideas are:
a. Rote rehearsal
This involves repeating a phrase over and over again till you can recite it fluently without the help of others
Some people learn better when they copy information over repetitively!
c. Mnemonic devices
Come up with acronyms, cool and catchy phrases, or special tricks to try to remember special material
11. Take on a new hobby/learn a new skill
Challenge your brain so that it really works its neuroplasticity features by doing something that you either have never done before or you’re not so great at. Some suggestions are cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, weight-lifting, getting involved in a sport, writing, drawing, and more. The list is endless!
12. Eat healthy
Of course, your diet impacts the way your body functions, especially your brain! The right foods will impact how much energy you have and how much command your brain has over you. Eating a diet full of healthy nutrients such as those rich in greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can support mental acuity and alertness.
Certain foods have shown to increase brain strength. For example, foods filled with Omega-3 Fatty Acids like salmon can improve brain function by increasing activity in your prefrontal cortex (which is associated with your working memory).
13. Get enough sleep
Sleep is extremely important to maintain a strong brain. Research suggests that the average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep in order to avoid sleep deprivation. If this amount is not reached, then creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised!
Studies have shown that even missing one night of sleep will increase the concentration of NSE and S-100B in the blood. These are biomarkers that are released as an alert signal that your brain is in an injurious condition and cannot function properly. When the blood is consumed with these substances, then this means that a severe amount of brain tissue has deteriorated.
14. Spend time with loved ones
Humans are social beings. We thrive on the relationships we have because they keep us well-grounded and motivated to be productive. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system are vital to brain health. Studies from the Harvard School of Public Health found that senior citizens with the most social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.
In our fast-paced society, one key factor that many of us forget to take care of is our emotional health. Stress, anger, worry, and anxiety are the brain’s worst enemies, yet many of us fail to realize that. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved with forming new memories and retrieving old ones. To prevent stress from conquering your life, let go of all the major stressors in your life and just be happy! Positive and humanistic psychologists emphasize keeping an uplifting spirit as a way to reach one’s full potential (This was mainly emphasized in the works of Carl Rogers). If you want to stay happy and content with your lifestyle, then smile and laugh more. This will increase your levels of oxytocin secreted, which contributes to your overall feeling of satisfaction. Spend time with fun, carefree, and interesting people. Surround yourself with positive reminders to help lighten up your difficult days. Keep a list of all the things you are thankful for and don’t sweat the small things!
Radiyyah is an undergraduate student at Macaulay Honors College and Queens College. She is currently pursuing a double Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Neuroscience with a minor in Sociology. Radiyyah is passionate about all fields relating to the brain and social psychology and she hopes to continue her career in Neuropsychology research.