The topic of brain health has become a more popular subject in the last decade, with a noticeable rise in neurodegenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Brain health has also become a widely popular topic in the world of sports, where concussions are now recognized to have significant short and long term impacts on injured players. The fact is, unless you have neurodegenerative disorders in your family or have experienced a concussion, you probably won’t start thinking about your brain’s health until you notice symptoms like brain fog, poor memory, and those ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ moments. The point of this blog is to urge you not to wait; start thinking about your brain’s health today.
There are so many simple ways to keep your mind sharp, some of which you may already be doing! Keeping a sharp mind will enable you to make more efficient and wiser decisions as you age. Here are some things you can do!
7 Ways to Improve Brain Health
1. Exercise daily. Exercise has a whole host of benefits for your mental and physical health, as endorphins released during exercise work wonders warding off depression and bolstering the immune system. Physical fitness also has been shown to increase mental sharpness as people age. Especially past the age of 40, daily exercise helps maintain acuity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In one study, elderly men who were aerobically fit were able to outperform men who were unfit in decision making tasks. (resource: Spark)
2. Eat a healthy diet. Brain and heart health may be key to maintaining memory stores as we age, and might even contribute to warding off dementia. Avoid trans fats, processed sugars, additives in food which damage brain blood vessels, and be sure your diet includes:
• Healthy fats, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon;
• Antioxidants, which contribute to optimal brain functioning;
• Plenty of veggies, the more color the better.
3. Get enough sleep. The fog of exhaustion will cloud your mental ability. Our brains store daily memories while we sleep, so you need rest in order to remember even mundane details of daily life. You might even consider taking a short nap after learning something new or important, to help store it in your long-term memory. Sleeping less than six hours a night has been shown to decrease mental sharpness even after one night. I am sure if you have kids, you know exactly what I am talking about.
4. Never stop learning. A study out of Harvard found that advanced education is associated with stronger memory as a person ages. Just because you aren’t in school doesn’t mean you can’t keep learning; an old dog can learn new tricks! Read a book. Watch online talks or tutorials. Pick up a new hobby. Take a class at a local community college. The best courses are those that are both mentally and socially demanding, like photography or quilting. These types of courses give you the added benefit of meeting new people and forming new friendships! The point is to constantly have those neurons firing.
5. Flex your mental muscles. You can improve your logic, problem solving, mental orientation and corrective thought process by working on puzzles and doing difficult mental tasks. For instance, start doing crossword puzzles. Studies show that older people who do crossword puzzles have better scores on a variety of cognitive tests than those who don’t. To be fair, researchers aren’t sure if the puzzles cause better mental ability or if people with better mental ability tend to do more crossword puzzles, nonetheless it can’t hurt to try! Don’t like puzzles? Try memorizing your friends’ and family’s phone numbers and birthdays.
6. Maintain healthy relationships. Humans are highly social animals. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Relationships stimulate our brains—in fact, interacting with others may be the best kind of brain exercise. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system are vital not only to emotional health, but also to brain health. In one recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that people with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.There are many ways to start taking advantage of the brain and memory-boosting benefits of socializing. Volunteer, join a club, make it a point to see friends more often, or reach out over the phone. And if a human isn’t handy, don’t overlook the value of a pet—especially the highly-social dog.
7. Keep stress at a minimum. You knew this one was coming. Everyone talks about the negative effects of stress. Stress is one of the brain’s worst enemies. Overtime chronic stress can destroy brain cells and even damage the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Studies have also linked prolonged stress to memory loss. It may be inevitable that we will experience stress at one point or another, and a certain amount of stress may be even deemed healthy (eustress: what motivates us to get work done!) However, the point is to try our best to manage situations that we have control over. To minimize daily stress, remember to:
- Set realistic expectations (and be willing to say no!)
- Take breaks throughout the day
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
- Set healthy a balance between work and leisure time
- Focus on one task at a time, rather than trying to multi-task
- Plan your day and events ahead of time
Doesn’t seem that hard now, does it? What do you do to keep your brain fit? Leave your comments below!