Bad habits impair your brain. You can tell when your habits are impairing you brain. This impairment manifests itself in bad choices, poor memory, lake of willpower, trouble sleeping, feeling lethargic during the day, uncontrolled anger, depression, poor health, and strained relationships.
But, not to worry, I’m here to help. I’ve spent the past eleven years studying the daily habits of those who succeed in life and those who do not. Those who succeed in life all share certain habits that improve brain function, increase their IQs, physically grow their brains by adding and strengthening brain cells, improve memory and accelerate their thinking. In my study of the brains of those who succeed and those who struggle in life, I uncovered some very interesting facts about how successful individuals are able to improve brain function.
Neuroplasticity is the process in which the brain changes over time. Our brains have stunning powers of neuroplasticity well into adulthood. When we form a new habit, neuroplasticity occurs. Our brains become re-wired. By changing our behavior or by changing the way we think, we change our brains. None of us are locked into life’s circumstances due to our DNA. We can change. We can become smarter, better and a much improved person well into our senior years. Neuroplasticity can enable the poorest and least educated the ability to change their circumstances in life by simply changing their behaviors and their thinking. We all have the capacity for success, no matter our age.
Below are three habits I uncovered in my study of successful individuals that will act like fertilizer for your brain:
Read to Learn 30 Minutes Each Day
88% of the successful individuals in my study read at least 30 minutes a day to learn. Not talking about entertainment reading here. This is focused study intended to gain knowledge in either your career, your life, your business or something you are passionate about. This reading included current events (94%), educational material (79%), biographies of other successful people (58%), history (51%) or self-help (55%). Eighty-six percent read two or more educational books per month and 63% listened to audio books. Conversely, 98% of those who were struggling in life did no educational reading at all. Here are some more reading-related stats of those struggling in life:
- 74% said that they hated reading.
- 85% said they did not read books.
- 89% said they did not read about current events.
- 94% said they did not read anything educational.
- 79% of those who did read, read strictly for entertainment.
- 84% never read anything historical in nature,
- 93% never picked up a self-improvement book.
What happens to your brain when you engage in daily self-education reading?
When we learn anything new, our brain releases a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). The release of BDNF has the effect of turning on a part of the brain called the Nucleus Basalis. When the nucleus basalis is turned on it releases a chemical called acetylcholine. The purpose of acetylcholine is to excite neurons to talk to each other. When neurons start talking to each other, a new synapse is created. The nucleus basalis is then turned off by this same protein (BDNF) and this new neural connection is locked in (sealed, so to speak) and the new learning then becomes a memory. The more we review the new learning, the stronger this new neural connection becomes and the easier it is to recall that information.
BDNF is fertilizer for the brain. It’s purpose is to help nerve cells (i.e. neurons – also known as brain cells) grow. When we make learning a daily habit (i.e. reading every day to learn) we turn on this nucleus basalis, create more neural connections (synapses) and, thus, our brains grow bigger and we become more intelligent.
There is another side benefit of daily learning that is only now being studied by neuroscientists – the more synapses we have, the less likely it is that we will fall prey to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly if we continue to engage in daily learning after age sixty-five.
Exercise Aerobically Every Day
You’re probably sick of hearing about the benefits of aerobic exercise (running, jogging, jumping rope, StairMaster, elliptical, biking, etc.). But I don’t care. Here are some of the benefits of exercise that you need to know:
- Aerobic exercise stimulates the production of Erythopoietin (EPO). EPO is responsible for the creation of new red blood cells in bone marrow. New red blood cells have more hemoglobin, which enables them to carry more oxygen to the body. Oxygen = fuel for the brain, tissues and muscles. Exercise increases the ability of red blood cells to fuel your brain.
- Aerobic exercise activates an enzyme called Telomerase. Telomerase protects telomeres. Telomeres are like caps at the end of every chromosome. Telomeres control the number of times a cell can divide. Cells that lose their telomeres die. When cells die it’s called aging. Exercise, therefore, increases the life span of cells, allowing brain cells to live longer, keeping your brain young.
- Aerobic exercise increases the volume of nerve tissue in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Exercise increases your ability to remember and to learn.
- Aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis. Neurogenesis = the growth of brain cells and synapses (brain cells that talk to one another). Exercise increases the growth of brain cells and the number of synapses you have inside your brain..
In my Rich Habits Study , those who succeeded in life exercised aerobically on average 30 minutes a day, four days a week. Those who struggled in life did not. In fact, 77% of those struggling in life did no exercise at all. Because successful people exercised, they had more brain fuel (glucose and oxygen), better memories, were able to learn more, had more brain cells and had more synapses (brain cells that talk to one another).
When we exercise aerobically, we increase blood flow throughout the body. The more you exercise, the greater the blood flow. Blood’s major purpose in the body is to carry nutrients (glucose and oxygen) to the cells and to carry waste out through our lungs in the form of carbon dioxide. This means more nutrients to the brain and more waste removal from the brain. Aerobic exercise also increases blood flow into the Dentrate Gyrus. The Dentrate Gyrus is part of our brain’s Hippocampus, a region involved in memory formation and neurogenesis (birth of new neurons). Aerobic exercise also stimulates the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDFN). BDFN is miracle grow for the neurons inside our brain. Aerobic exercise is, in many respects, like candy for the brain.
Learn a New Skill Every Six Months
Every time you engage in a new activity and then practice it, you grow your brain. Every repeated activity requires the creation of a neural pathway. Neural pathways are a series of neurons (brain cells) called into action to communicate with each other. When we repeat new activities, these neurons communicating with each other begin to form a permanent neural pathway, thus growing the size of our brains. It is critical for older people to engage in new activities in order to keep their brains active and prevent shrinkage, which usually accompanies retirement. Those who want to grow their brains should engage in a new activity every six months and repeat it until it becomes a new skill. This can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days. Each new activity that becomes a skill creates brain mass and keeps our minds active and healthy.