How to Naturally Improve Focus and Concentration in the New Year
This blog does not intend to provide diagnosis...
In this article:
- Minimize Distractions
- Give Your Brain a Concentration Workout
- Prioritize Sleep
- Move Your Body
- Load up on Nutrients That Improve Concentration
Modern life is filled with distractions competing for our attention. Smartphones, pop-up ads, social media, and even stress all compromise our ability to concentrate. On top of that, aging and certain mental health conditions can further impair our focus. And when we’re not able to concentrate, we take longer to complete even simple tasks, leaving us frustrated both with ourselves and the task at hand.
We could all use help to reign in a wandering mind when it’s time to focus. While we don’t always have control over the external environment, we can choose to incorporate certain activities, nutrients, and habits that support brain health and promote more focus and concentration in our lives. Follow these suggestions to cut through the brain fog so you can boost productivity—and your enjoyment of life—by improving your focus and concentration.
Distractions are serious concentration busters. And with smartphone, smartwatch, and computer notifications pinging away at us throughout the day, we are constantly bombarded with distractions vying for our attention.
Stop struggling to maintain focus in a distraction-laden environment and create a distraction-free work zone that fosters better focus. Use a website blocker to avoid social media sites you know are hard to resist, turn your phone to focus mode, and try noise-canceling headphones if you don’t have a quiet space to work. Try diffusing an essential oil blended to encourage focus for an even more conducive work environment.
Remember, you are not weak for succumbing to distractions – they are made to be irresistible. Instead of fighting them, create a space where they can’t reach you. And devote time to scroll your phone once you’re on a break.
You do exercises to strengthen your muscles—consider doing the same for your brain! Like training to increase physical strength and stamina, you can train your brain to improve your focus and concentration. And even better, training your brain is fun!
Regularly engaging in activities that activate your brain can help you build focus over time and even lower your risk of age-related cognitive decline. One 2015 study found that spending 15 minutes a day for 5 days on brain games significantly improved participants’ concentration.
A wide variety of brain games can be found in books, on apps, or even in newspapers and magazines—find the one you enjoy most. Here are some ideas for brain training activities:
- Crossword puzzles
- Word scrambles
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Word searches
Getting enough shut-eye is one of the most important things you can do to improve your focus and concentration. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts all areas of your life, especially concentration and focus. When you are tired you are slower to finish tasks, your mood suffers, and you may have a difficult time concentrating. You may even turn to unhealthy habits to stay awake, like snacking when you’re not really hungry and drinking excess caffeine.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that adults get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. To improve your sleep, try these tips:
- Get comfortable: Use pillows, comfy blankets, a cool, comfortable room temperature, and perhaps an eye mask to create an inviting sleep environment.
- Avoid screens: Put your phone, computer, and other screens away at least 1 hour before bed.
- Get into a routine: Going to bed at the same time each night helps you fall asleep easier.
- Wind down: Incorporate a wind-down routine with a soothing bath or a good book (but not one so good that it keeps you awake!)
Exercise provides many health benefits, but did you know it also positively impacts your concentration and attention? Some studies have shown that older adults who partake in regular physical activity have lower rates of cognitive decline and memory loss than those who are sedentary.
Physical activity can be whatever you make it—exercise doesn’t have to be 60 minutes in the gym. Beneficial movement includes lifting weights at the gym, walking around the block, even turning on your favorite music, and dancing around your house. Any additional movement beyond what you currently do will benefit you.
Lifestyle factors influence your overall focus and concentration, but the foods you eat can also impact your cognitive function. Staying well-hydrated and eating whole foods throughout your day gives your body the nutrients it needs to improve your mental function and overall health.
The foods listed below may be especially beneficial for improving mental acuity. Rather than focusing on one particular nutrient, aim for a well-balanced diet that includes all of these concentration-boosting nutrients:
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that the body cannot make on its own. They may provide many health benefits, including improved mood, reduced inflammation, and improved heart disease risk factors.
Omega-3s are also important for brain health. About 60% of the human brain is comprised of fat, and half of that fat is made up of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are three types of omega-3s: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid); EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid); and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is mostly found in plants while DHA and EPA are found in animal-based foods and algae. Plant-based food sources of omega 3s include:
The conversion rate of ALA is lower than EPA and DHA, meaning you need to consume more ALA to get the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids. For this reason, most non-meat eaters should emphasize plant-based foods that are higher in omega-3s to make sure they are meeting their needs. If you’re not able to meet your needs, whether you are vegan or not, consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
Your brain and nervous system need adequate vitamin B12 to function well. Vitamin B12 is particularly emphasized in the plant-based eating community, but this vitamin is important for everyone. Vitamin B12 is stored in your body for years, but not getting enough can lead to irreversible damage to your nervous system.
B12 is mostly found in animal products but can be found in the following plant-based foods:
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified non-dairy milk
- Plant-based meats
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified soy products such as tofu
Generally, if you follow a vegan eating plan, you should be taking a B12 supplement. Having adequate stores of vitamin B12 is essential for both energy and memory. One study found that vitamin B12 deficiency was associated with an increased risk of severe depression, which may pose additional challenges when it comes to concentration and focus.
Though it has its pros and cons, caffeine can boost your focus and productivity. Caffeine keeps you alert by blocking a chemical, adenosine, that makes you feel tired. While sleep deprivation impacts your ability to focus and concentrate, caffeine can temporarily override that feeling, allowing you to be more alert.
While caffeine can help perk you up in the morning or sustain you through the day after a rough night, don’t get in the habit of making caffeine your crutch to push through inadequate sleep. A good night’s sleep is crucial, not just to focus and concentration, but to physical and emotional health in general.
Limit caffeine intake to no more than 400 milligrams (mg) per day. And for a good night’s sleep, consider switching to decaf beverages after 3 p.m.
In addition to giving that beloved jolt of caffeine, coffee also offers antioxidants that may provide additional health benefits. A standard 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 95 mg caffeine.
Keeping your cells healthy is one of the best ways to prevent illness or symptoms such as brain fog or cloudy thinking. Free radicals produced inside our cells cause oxidative damage that is associated with a variety of diseases, including cancer, neurodegeneration, and diabetes. Antioxidants scavenge these harmful free radicals, helping to keep our cells safe from oxidative stress and inflammation, and our minds sharp by slowing cognitive decline.
Enjoy high-antioxidant foods daily to protect yourself from the damage of free radicals. These include:
A good rule of thumb is if a food is brightly colored, it is likely rich in antioxidants. Try filling at least half your plate with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. In other words, “eat the rainbow”—and, no, I don’t mean the candies!
Many micronutrients are helpful when trying to improve focus and concentration. Zinc is a nutrient that not only helps the immune system and wound healing but is also involved in nerve signaling, which is especially important for the brain. Some studies have linked zinc deficiency with neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and depression.
Load up on the following foods for additional zinc:
Overall, the foods you eat, your environment, and your age all influence your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate. Training your mind with brain games, getting enough sleep, prioritizing exercise, and eating foods that power your brain can help improve focus and acuity in the new year.
Different tools work for different people. Try out some of the suggestions from this article to find which resonate with you. Remember, some nutrients in foods and supplements can interact with certain medications. Before making changes to your diet or supplements, consult a qualified healthcare practitioner to ensure the changes are safe for you.
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