By Jaime Cobb
The 2014 World Alzheimer’s Report suggests “If we enter into mature age with better developed, healthier brains we are likely to live longer, happier and more independent lives, with a much-reduced chance of developing dementia.” And while “senior moments” – like forgetting why we walked into that room – and small lapses in memory are normal, there are things we can do in our daily lives to keep our brains healthy and functioning at their highest levels.
Below are six areas of wellness that have been shown to improve brain health and help stave off age-related cognitive changes.
Regular physical exercise is your brain’s best friend. Exercise rushes oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to the brain’s cells, which enhances and strengthens neurons, cognitive control and decision-making.
Get moving: Cardio exercise that gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes 5-6 times a week is where you will get the brain and heart health benefits. Aim to move more throughout the day – walking, biking, gardening, taking the stairs … it all counts!
You are what you eat! The best diets for brain health are well-balanced – rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, fatty acids and more from a variety of food groups – that limit or restrict brain-draining foods, like sugary drinks and processed meats.
Eat healthy: The MIND diet has been shown to reduce the risk for dementia and improve cognitive scores in older adults. Try adopting this eating style with small changes in your diet, like cooking with olive oil or eating 5 servings of nuts each week.
Strong social ties have positive benefits on memory, cognition, judgement and overall health. Studies show that regular social interactions can reduce risk for dementia plus they require our brains to engage in multiple activities that support daily function and capabilities.
Connect with others: Socializing can boost your mood and brain function, so finding ways to interact with others on a daily basis is key. Try telephoning friends, visiting family members, attending and/or hosting events, or joining a community club.
The brain needs regular, restful sleep to operate at its best. Sleep helps process and store information in the correct areas of the brain, releases chemicals that strengthen the immune system, and facilitates the clearance of cellular waste that accumulates while we’re awake.
Establish a solid sleep routine: If nightly sleep deprivation is slowing your thinking and affecting your mood, try getting a good amount of sunlight during the day, avoiding eating too late in the evening, and making the nighttime restful and relaxing.
Chronic stress is damaging to the brain. It hampers nerve cell growth and leads to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain. We all have stressful times and events, but how we manage the stress is the key.
Reduce stress: Recognize your limits and ask for help before the stress becomes overwhelming, prioritize self-care and practice daily techniques that minimize the harmful effects of stress, like journaling, practicing your faith and engaging in relaxing activities.
Those who stay mentally active, embrace new activities and continue to learn new things throughout life build their cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s way of finding alternative ways to get things done and staying resilient, and are less likely to develop a dementia.
Workout your brain: Below are three ways you can increase your brain’s fitness.
- Try something new. Novelty creates and grows neuronal connections throughout the brain (e.g., use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth or learn a musical instrument).
- Create variety to cross-train your brain. Do activities that engage all areas of your brain (e.g., activate visualization, sequencing, social skills and your short-term memory with a game of bridge).
- Challenge yourself. Don’t get comfortable with one activity; make it progressively harder (e.g., increase the difficulty level of your daily sudoku or crossword puzzle or time yourself against the clock).
Taking care of your brain is about making daily lifestyle choices that are also good for whole person wellness. To get the maximum effects for optimal brain health you want to make changes in each of the areas listed above and strive for progress, not perfection. If you want to learn more about how to improve your brain health, check out our YouTube Channel to get more information about each of these areas with our bite-sized brain health videos.