While mom’s favorite line was, “You are what you eat,” she should have added, “Eat well; what’s good for your heart is good for your brain.” After all, the two go hand in hand and both require good habits. It takes a lot to think, learn, and remember.
Now, if your child has ever said, “I can’t do that; it’s too hard!” here are a few brainy facts to stop her in her tracks. Remind her that her brain uses 20-25% of her body’s energy, so it’s no wonder that thinking is as tiring as physical labor. She must feed it well. Then wow her with the fact that a computer built with her brain’s capacity would cover the state of Texas and be 100 stories tall! Couple that with experts’ suggestions that we use only between one and ten percent of our brain’s capacity and out the window goes that “It’s too hard” complaint. No more excuses.
What’s called for instead are some mind-boosting suggestions to keep brains running smoothly and performing at their best–tips that are simple, beneficial, proven. You know now that thinking burns lots of energy—just ask your child after a test-filled day. To ward off further mental fatigue during homework/study time, turn off CD’s and TV’s and be sure he takes an exercise break between assignments and test prep. Researchers say that physical activity not only strengthens bodies, it also increases blood flow, hence oxygen, to the brain. In fact, says University of California’s Carl Cotman, “Exercise stimulates the production of all kinds of wonderful molecules that keep neurons (brain cells) strong . . . and increases these molecules in the brain.” Quite a pay off!
The right foods are essential, too, so here are a number of mind-boosting nutrition tips to take to heart:
1. To keep your child working faster, testing better, and being more creative, serve breakfast every day, like a bowl of cereal or plate of pancakes topped with berries.
2. Choose low-fat varieties of dairy products, soups, meats, etc.
3. Include calcium-rich foods, such as skim milk, low-fat yogurt, broccoli, and spinach to “clean” the brain.
4. Enjoy a daily serving of soy in one of its many forms. If tofu is distasteful, try edamame, soy milk, power bars, and nuts. (Heat a cup of chocolate soy milk in the microwave for yummy hot cocoa, topped with a marshmallow).
5. Folate is essential for a good mind, so include lentils, fortified cereals, wheat germ, papaya, asparagus, cantaloupe, and eggs in your meal planning.
6. Dish up beans and other legumes, like peas, black beans, and chick peas.
7. Serve seafood at least twice a week, including omega-3 rich tuna, salmon, and herring.
8. Replace chips and pretzels with seeds, nuts, and raisins.
9. Shop for whole-grains: cereals, breads, rice, pasta.
10. Aim for seven to nine daily servings of brightly colored fruits and veggies: tomatoes, strawberries, yams, spinach, and so on. Best of all is the blueberry, otherwise known as the brain berry.
Here are a few extras, too. Researchers say that learning how to read music and play an instrument helps kids with thinking in space and time, fractions, proportions, and the like—a worthy pursuit. Mind games also keep brains in top working order, so get your child reading, doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles, working on math exercises, playing cards, and enjoying board games like chess, checkers, Scattergories, and Monopoly. Meanwhile, try following a map together into unknown territory, visiting exhibits, meeting new people, and by all means, playing words games. For instance, can you come up with the 200 or so smaller words embedded in TRANSPORTATION?