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10 Surprising Ways to Enhance Your Mind

Amanda Page Oct 12th, 2012 (updated Apr 23rd, 2014)
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Sometimes hitting the gym and eating healthy food isn’t enough to jump-start the road to self-improvement. Techniques to benefit the mind are often overlooked because disciplining the brain is less tangible and requires challenging ourselves in unique ways. Here are some surprising ways to achieve better mental health.

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Eat a Mediterranean diet
Eat a Mediterranean diet

Much has been said about the health benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet – people in that region have lower mortality rates, reduced risk of heart disease, and lower rates of chronic illness. Now researchers have found that those who stick to eating a Mediterranean diet - which consists mostly of olive oil, fish, nuts, vegetables, and red wine, are also less depressed and report a better quality of life.  

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Learn a second language
Learn a second language

Easier said than done, of course, but a host of studies have found that the mental benefits of being bilingual are numerous. For instance a recent study found that fluency in multiple languages helps ward of symptoms of dementia. Besides fighting dementia, bilingualism enhances the ability to focus one’s attention and to solve problems quickly and effectively. Additionally, bilinguals report higher self-esteem as well as reduced anxiety and loneliness. 

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Do your work in a coffee shop
Do your work in a coffee shop

We’ve all noticed the java addicts at the local coffee shop sprawled out with laptops as if they live there.  Well, they may be on to something. A new study concludes that working in a bustling coffee shop enhances creativity, as opposed to working in a quiet library or stuffy office setting. 

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Live by the sea
Live by the sea

Or you can consider a beach bungalow in your future. New research finds that people were more likely to have good health if they lived close to the coast. Coastal living is associated with lower levels of stress due to the calming and relaxing nature of the parks, countryside, and beaches. The reduced stress levels result  in better cardiovascular health. Coastal living also encourages inhabitants to be more active –resulting in better physical health.  

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Try aromatherapy
Try aromatherapy

The effects of aromatherapy have long been debated.  While the physical healing properties of the most popular oils--lemon and lavender--are believed to be ineffective, the aroma of lemon has shown to have a positive impact on mood improvement. The mood-lifting capability of this scent is immediate but temporary. So, if you need a pick-me-up, you may want to incorporate some lemon into your day.    

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Laugh often
Laugh often

Laughing made recent headlines for its ability to enhance a workout and sculpt abs, but laughing, even when you don’t want to, can trick your brain into feeling happier by the basic science of conditioning. Studies show that smiling broadly for 60 seconds, laughing heartily for 60 seconds, or howling for 60 seconds can help bring you to a happier state. Smiling also boosts self-confidence particularly body image.   

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Begin resistance training
Begin resistance training

It’s well known that lifting weights in addition to cardio is ideal for promoting physical fitness. The physical benefits to resistance training include lower mortality risk, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and better glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.  But, to this list, we can add the mental health benefits of reduced anxiety and depression, and improved cognition, sleep, self-esteem, and energy levels.

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Meditate
Meditate

Meditation has shown to be effective in promoting stress reduction, relaxation, and productivity, as well as managing depression, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease. According to researchers at UCLA, the brain gets cumulatively stronger as meditation is consistently practiced over time. 

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Get a pet
Get a pet

Studies show that pet owners are more confident and physically fit, as well as less lonely and less prone to anxiety and depression.  Just spending 15 minutes with a loving pet can help you feel relaxed, since the brain decreases production of the stress hormone cortisol and ramps up production of serotonin – making you feel good.  

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Set an electronic curfew
Set an electronic curfew

Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep to your mental health. More research is revealing that the use of electronic devices, such as an iPad, a smartphone, television, and laptop are disrupting our natural sleep cycles. The light emanating from the devices alerts the brain that it should be awake, which delays your sleep cycle, resulting in potential sleeping disorders like insomnia.  

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Eat beets
Eat beets

Yes, the typical good diet advice holds true – coffee, tea, and moderate red wine consumption are good for your health. But beets are a superfood with the power to keep your brain sharp, as well as to create a defense against dementia. The high concentration of nitrates found in beets and beet juice increases blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance.