The more we learn about the brain, the more we understand how important it is to keep it strong and healthy. Read the following for tips on how to keep your most important organ in tip-top shape.
Move and Grove - Physical exercise is not only beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight and strong heart – people who exercise regularly have increased blood flow to the brain and better connections between nerve cells. In fact, physical activity has shown itself to be the best method of preserving cognitive ability as we age. Unlike medication and other treatments, exercise has no discernible side effects, is 100% cost-free, and can even stimulate stem cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that manages our memories! In addition to improved production of new brain cells and nerve-protecting chemicals, daily physical exercise also greatly reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease such as stroke, a condition that contributes heavily to impaired cognitive function.
Train Your Brain - Brain-stimulating activities promote healthy connections between nerve cells and even help generate new ones! Studies show that solving brain teasers, working on a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, or other active-learning endeavors like studying a new language can sustain, and even improve, cognitive ability. But it doesn’t all have to be “by the book.” Activities that use your hands as well as your mind—like drawing or playing an instrument—can also improve brain health. Even listening to music or traveling can have positive effects. The point is to keep learning and experiment with new things!
Eat to Think - The more we understand about the brain, the more we know that what you eat can have great influence on keeping it healthy. Studies have shown that people who eat a “Mediterranean-style” diet that includes high levels of fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and unsaturated fats like olive oil are 20% less likely to experience dementia and other forms of cognitive change. But it isn’t just about what you should eat – certain foods need to be avoided, too. By including heart-healthy and nutrient-rich foods into your daily diet, you’re taking care of the entire package, brain and body.
Connect to Protect - It makes plenty of sense that your diet and level of exercise play significant roles in your overall health (brain function included), but did you know that staying social and making connections with other people is just as important? Science has proven that the more connected someone is to their community (and the people in it), the more they are able to preserve cognitive function and retain memory. In addition, social connectivity is vital in supporting and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Depression is a major contributor to changes in cognitive ability, and it goes hand-in-hand with isolation. So remember—the more people you can connect with, the better off your brain.
Dream Team - A good night’s rest has always been an important part of staying physically healthy, but studies are starting to show how essential it is for supporting an efficient and effective brain. When you sleep, your brain gets a chance to process all that it learned that day and develop new strategies for conquering old problems. Restful sleep also helps with memory retention and boosts creativity, and synaptic (nerve) connections grow stronger. If you aren’t getting between 7 and 9 hours of solid sleep each night, it might be time to investigate some strategies for better rest.
Be MINDful - It isn’t very hard to imagine a connection between elevated stress levels and a negative impact on your brain, but now the science proves it. Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,”has been shown to have a detrimental effect on our ability to remember things, one of the more significant results of cognitive change. But fear not—studies have also demonstrated a fundamental correlation between meditation (the act of quiet, still contemplation) and improvement in memory and concentration. Beyond that, some data seems to suggest that your brain can actually grow in certain areas with consistent practice of mindfulness. No longer just for gurus, mediation can take many forms, but almost all include some techniques of breathing and accomplishing a feeling of peace. Whether you find your sense of calm at church or on a park bench, a positive mindset will go far in keeping your brain hearty and healthy.
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