Feeling slow? Sharpen up your brain with a cognitive fitness regime

Keiron Sparrowhawk
The Real Brain Exhibit @Bristol Science Centre
Our brains are not the static organs once thought, they need exercising like any other muscle (Source: Getty)

The benefits of physical fitness have been known for some time, yet cognitive fitness has been a stone left unturned – until now.

Clinical research shows that our brains are not the static organs once thought, and modern day advances in neuroscience have enabled us to assess and analyse the underlying cognitive behaviours that make us, our colleagues and our business leaders who we are.

We can train and exercise to improve our cognitive fitness, help us make better decisions, work smarter, and gain a competitive edge in the workplace.

Regular brain training, focused on key areas where we want or need improvement, encourages the growth of neurons to build new brain pathways, helping us to adopt better habits, which strengthens our mental agility and wellbeing.

The following scientifically proven cognitive exercises will help to enhance your cognitive fitness, sharpen your thinking and become more resilient to the stresses of modern working life.

Plan to succeed

While you climb the corporate ladder you may be tempted – and encouraged – to delegate more to others. But delegating too much could be to your detriment. Enhance your executive function (the ability to plan, organise and be creative) by keeping back some planning responsibility, and prevent this skill from diminishing.

Organise a series of events or even an international trip – and keep up your networking skills.

To teach is to learn twice

Boost your working memory (your ability to find solutions and solve problems) by taking time to explain concepts, ideas and processes to others. As well as benefiting your work colleagues, the process of teaching helps you to consolidate information and archive it, while making way for more long-term memory.

Picture this

Your episodic memory, responsible for your recall and wisdom, is seen by many in the workplace as a crucial skill for management and leadership. Enhance this cognitive domain as well as your ability to recall a list of individual items in a sequence by conjuring up an exotic image of all the items together. This mnemonic imagery technique is up to three times more effective than trying to learn by repetition, enabling you to recount information quickly and succinctly whenever you need to.

Full speed ahead

Boost your processing speed (the ability to act with speed and accuracy) by re-energising your meetings. Try to cut the length of them down by 10 per cent. If that works then trying cutting them down again by another 10 per cent. Not only will “speed meetings” force attendees to be both concise and focused, but given that the average employee spends 62 hours in meetings a month, a 10 per cent saving gives you at least six hours of your life back each month.

The head and the heart

Attention, the domain that enables you to concentrate and to focus, can be given a powerful and immediate injection through regular exercise. A healthy level of cardiovascular fitness has been clinically proven to increase function in the attentional network of the brain. Walking or running to work, hitting the gym or even ensuring you always take the stairs will make a vital contribution to keeping you sharper and more energised for longer.

Maintaining an active and diverse social life boosts our mood and is brilliant for cognitive fitness too. From the simplest of conversations to the liveliest of debates, the dynamics of social interactions flex our cognitive skills, such as memory and recall, so ensure you take time in your working day to indulge your social nature and engage with those around you.

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