brain power

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Go Deeper into Downton Abbey
TV shows, novels, loopy messages scribbled on the sidewalk—anything can launch new ideas and insights if you "zoom out" enough, say Sandra Bond Chapman and Shelly Kirkland in their book, Make Your Brain Smarter. The key to a stronger frontal lobe is "integrated reasoning"—finding ways to connect new information to your own life experiences and knowledge.

Try this: Instead of simply following the plotline of a book or TV show, come up with insights or take-home messages that you can apply to your life. Everything can be mined: Downton Abbey for money lessons, Jane Austen for life advice, anything. When study participants pushed their minds this way, they showed cognitive gains after just six hours of training and significant structural changes in the brain's white matter connections in six to 12 weeks. "Mental weight-lifting" is not like physical exercise, Kirkland says. You must do this throughout your day, as often as possible, continually.