© Andrea Pittori | Dreamstime.com
Some days I would give just about anything to increase concentration. I’m currently standing in my home office in search of something I knew I needed just seconds ago. I was in the kitchen, scrolling through chicken recipes online while simultaneously helping my kids with their homework when it popped into my mind. Now that I’m here, I can’t remember what “it” is.
My lack of concentration (and subsequent forgetfulness) isn’t surprising—and I know I’m not alone in my lack-of-focus funk. We live in an age where information is flying around at light speed. We can’t work without a steady stream of interruptions from e-mails, texts, or tweets and the like, says Harriet Griffey, author of The Art of Concentration. It’s a wonder we can accomplish anything at all.
That’s why we’ve created this post: to help you boost your cognitive power. The good news? It’s going to be easier than you thought. From eating fish (they’re chock full of brain-boosting omega-3s) to meditating, these strategies will have you focusing like a champ.
1. Exercise to improve focus and memory
In 2016, researchers analyzed 29 studies that examined the effects of cardiovascular exercise on focus and memory. Their findings: Getting your heart rate up (even for only 15 minutes) can help improve memory. The results are even better if you exercise right before or after learning the information you need to retain. Strength training is another brain-booster. Lifting weights for 30 minutes twice a week can enhance cognitive function.
2. Eat well to increase concentration.
The following six foods (and one beverage) will get your brain working at full speed.
- Fish. Packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, eating fish like salmon can help improve your brain power. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, omega-3s (particularly DHA) can increase blood flow to certain regions of the brain. The effects: increased concentration and improved memory.
- Blueberries. Blueberries are high in flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and reduce inflammation. According to a study from the University of Exeter, those who consumed 230 g of blueberries (or 30 mL of concentrated blueberry compote) daily for 12 weeks experienced a rise in blood flow to the brain, resulting in enhanced focus and memory retention.
- Eggs. Another omega-3 superstar, eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that is essential for both brain development and cognitive function. The proof is in the yolk, so aim to eat the whole thing.
- Spinach. This leafy green is packed with essential, brain-boosting nutrients like lutein, folate, beta-carotene and vitamin K. Eating it regularly could even help ward off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
EAT BREAKFAST TO INCREASE CONCENTRATION
Research proves that eating well in the morning (see “Why Is Breakfast Important?“) can help increase your attention span and improve short-term memory. Aim for low-calorie, high-fiber options like homemade oatmeal. It’s packed with protein and is low on the glycemic index, which means you’ll feel its energy-boosting effects for much longer than you would had you chosen a high-sugar cereal. For added brain enhancement, add nutrient-filled fruits like blueberries.
- Dark chocolate. Multiple studies have proven a link between consuming dark chocolate (the type containing at least 70 percent cocoa offer the most benefits) with increased cognitive function. Chocolate contains flavonols, which increase the flow of blood to the brain and help protect and enhance the functioning of neurons.
- Water. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found a link between dehydration and low concentration. Of the 25 women examined, those with the lowest water intake suffered from fatigue, headaches, and lack of focus. The take-home: Drink more! Aim for six to eight glasses of water a day.
(See also our post “Brain Food: What to Eat to Protect Your Memory.”)
3. Supplements may improve concentration.
While it’s always best to get nutrients from food, sometimes a supplement is necessary. That said, always check with your doctor before adding one to your diet.
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While many also tout the brain-enhancing benefits of gingko biloba (it’s said to increase oxygen flow in the brain), more research is needed to prove its safety and efficacy.
4. Try meditation as a way to increase concentration.
Regular meditation can change the way your brain functions, thus enhancing your mood, memory and focus, say authors of a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Try to turn your mind away from distracting thoughts in favor of focusing on just one – your breath, counting or a mantra. A mere 10 minutes a day can help improve focus.
CAFFEINE: A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD?
The positive effects of caffeine on energy are indisputable. Drink a cup of java and you’ll see them for yourself within minutes. Not only can consuming caffeine help you gain extra energy, but it can also help you concentrate. Problem is, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect, causing you to feel jittery or unwell. Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee, try eating a square of dark chocolate instead. You’ll still gain the energy burst associated, but with the added bonus of a boost in serotonin and endorphin levels.
5. Sleep to increase concentration, focus, and memory.
Sleep is perhaps the easiest and most important thing you can do to bolster your brain health.
“Losing even a few hours of sleep can have detrimental effects on a wide variety of cognitive processes such as attention, language, reasoning, decision-making, learning, and memory,” say researchers of a study published in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. Aim for at least seven hours a night.