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Brain fitness tips from the Harvard Mental Health Letter (5/5)

May 5, 2010
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In this era of multitasking, people who want to remain mentally fit and focused sometimes end up feeling fragmented and stressed out instead. The May 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter offers simple techniques that you can try at home or at work to focus better and think more productively. Much of the advice is included in The Winner’s Brain: Eight Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success (Da Capo Press), a new book from Harvard Health Publications written by psychologist Jeff Brown and neuroscientist Mark Fenske. Their techniques draw from the psychotherapy approaches of cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology.

Here is a sampling of their strategies for staying mentally sharp:

Motivation. When procrastination is the problem, it may be that the task seems too big. First map the steps necessary for reaching a goal, then concentrate on achieving each step.

Focus. To foster focus, turn off your cell phone or e-mail, take a break or walk, and be more relaxed about tasks rather than taking a “hunt and kill” approach.

Memory. Use memory proactively, as a way to prepare for the future. Practicing a particular task or skill repeatedly — both physically and mentally — can help you acquire the type of memory that will help you perform more efficiently and with more confidence.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that it is also important to take care of the brain, even while finding new mental challenges every day. The basics of brain care consist of three things that are also good for the rest of the body: sleep, exercise, and nutrition. A good night’s sleep fosters both mental and emotional resilience. Aerobic exercise appears to improve several aspects of mental functioning. Certain diets, especially those emphasizing vegetables and heart-healthy oils, may also help people maintain thinking ability and memory as they age.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications (www.health.harvard.edu), the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $59 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/mental or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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