Adding a few practices to one’s daily routine can help to mitigate the effects from some of the challenges in daily life that can impair mental cognition.

Mental cognition encompasses attention, knowledge acquisition, memory formation, memory storage, and the ability to reason.1 There are numerous factors that impair our mental cognition, such as drugs, alcohol, and diet. Some common elements of modern life that can exacerbate these problems include the innumerable distractions of daily life, lack of exercise, and insufficient sleep that plagues many people today.

However, there are some activities that can help to boost mental cognition and overall brain health.

Meditation
Meditation has been shown to improve mental cognition and the effects can be felt in less than 1 week.2 In a study, 22 college-aged students with no meditation experience underwent 4 separate 20-minute meditation sessions.

In the study, the participants were asked to close their eyes, relax, and focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. When thoughts arose, they were told to notice, acknowledge, and let go of those thoughts by bringing focus back to the breath.

After just 4 days, the participants showed a significant benefit in several cognitive activities that involve sustained attention and executive processing efficiency.

Physical Activity
In terms of overall health, few things are as beneficial as physical activity. Physical activity helps to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.3

In addition, years of research point to an inverse relationship between physical activity and cognitive decline.4 The mechanism by which physical activity improves mental cognition seems to involve an increase in neural plasticity along with the upregulation of neuronal proliferation and anti-inflammatory processes.4

Specifically, recent research indicates a neurotrophin called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) increases during physical activity.5 Elevated BDNF levels have been shown to be positively correlated with better mental cognition.5

Sleep
Sleep is a key component of proper cognitive functioning.6 Several cognitive functions, such as attention, reasoning, and memory, can be impaired with just a few hours of sleep loss.6 Proper sleep can even boost mental cognition above normal conditions, especially when it comes to memories.6

During sleep, memories acquired before sleep are consolidated, facilitating the acquisition of new memories during the next waking day.6 This is done with the help of sleep-specific brain oscillations that cause the neuronal reactivation of memories that boost mental cognition.6 Research into ways of manipulating these sleep-specific brain oscillations is being done to help in the treatment of people with memory dysfunctions.6

Meditation, sleep, and physical activity are just a few of the ways possible to boost mental cognition. Unfortunately, more obstacles are being introduced into our lives that hinder our ability to calm our minds, exercise, and sleep a sufficient amount. For this reason, finding the time to incorporate cognition-boosting strategies into our daily routine is becoming ever more important.   

REFERENCES
  1. Psychology Today. Cognition. 2020. Accessed August 15, 2020. psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognition
  2. Zeidan, Fadel, et al. "Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training." Consciousness and cognition 19.2 (2010): 597-605.
  3. Phillips, Cristy. "Lifestyle modulators of neuroplasticity: how physical activity, mental engagement, and diet promote cognitive health during aging." Neural plasticity (2017).
  4. Sofi, Francesco, et al. "Physical activity and risk of cognitive decline: a meta‚Äźanalysis of prospective studies." Journal of internal medicine 269.1 (2011): 107-117.
  5. Belviranli, Muaz, et al. "The relationship between brain-derived neurotrophic factor, irisin and cognitive skills of endurance athletes." The Physician and sportsmedicine 44.3 (2016): 290-296
  6. Diekelmann, Susanne. “Sleep for cognitive enhancement.” Frontiers in systems neuroscience vol. 8 46. 2 Apr. 2014, doi:10.3389/fnsys.2014.00046.