5 WAYS TO KEEP OUR BRAIN YOUNG
No matter what we do, our bodies age. And our brains age with it. The good news is that by exercising our brain and practicing healthy brain habits, we can keep our brain from aging prematurely. Even better, these exercises and habits can help strengthen our brain no matter what age we start.
As the body moves, the brain grooves. We say that a lot here because exercise is one of the most important things we can do for a healthy brain. Getting up and moving around gets our blood flowing, increases our oxygen intake, and stimulates multiple areas in the brain. And while we can do this by simply taking a walk, focusing on aerobic exercise where we increase our heart rate is the most effective form of exercise for the brain.
We want to move for at least thirty minutes and if we can do that while outdoors, we can get even more brain benefits. Things like jogging, hiking, riding a bike, swimming, playing tennis are all fantastic ways to combine the outdoors with exercise. Beyond blood flow and oxygen levels, aerobic exercises give us a boost of endorphins along with other happy brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. These not only elevate our mood but prime the brain for learning new things, improve our memory, and sharpen our executive functions.
The saying goes, we are what we eat, and this is especially true for our brain. Just as there are foods we can eat for exceptional heart health or promote strong muscles, there are foods that are particularly beneficial for our brain. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fishes have shown to increase our grey matter, which increases the nerve cells controlling mood, memory, and decision making.
Other healthy brain foods are antioxidant-rich blueberries to help improve cell communication, prevent memory loss, and reduce inflammation. Nuts and seeds, like walnuts and pumpkin seeds, are rich in vitamins and nutrients essential for nerve health and learning. Eggs are full of choline, a vital micronutrient that creates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps regulate mood and memory.
Exercise the brain
Physical exercise is great for the brain, but the brain also needs to be exercised. And one way we can do that is by playing brain games. Engaging in activities that challenge us intellectually or stretch our problem-solving muscles are fantastic exercises that give the brain a solid workout. Things like crossword puzzles, sudoku, chess, jigsaw puzzles, or even reading are great ways to keep our brain active and engaged.
Multiple studies show that reading helps reduce the probability of memory decline by close to 35%. And playing mind-developing games helps improve the brain’s capacity to retain memories, process information, improve problem-solving skills, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive-impairing disorders.
Get good sleep
It’s a misconception that our brain goes offline when we sleep. In fact, sleep is when the brain performs some incredibly important functions such as transferring memories from our short-term to long-term storage. While we sleep, we remove toxins in our brain, improve nerve cell communication, and process complex stimuli which make decision-making while awake easier. We even improve our motor cortex function while we sleep.
It’s recommended that we get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but the most important thing about sleep is quality, not quantity. Implementing good sleep habits like going to sleep and waking up at the same time, spending time outdoors to regulate the natural sleep-wake cycle, and avoiding screen time at least an hour before bed. And doing activities such as meditation and practicing daily mindfulness reduces cortisol which helps the production of the natural sleep neurochemical melatonin.
Learn something new
Learning in all forms has a lot of benefits for the brain, including keeping it young and agile. When we learn new things, whether it’s a skill or piece of information, our brain structure changes. Areas such as the frontal lobe, the cerebellum, the brain stem, and the cerebrum become active while we learn. In addition, while we’re learning we develop new neural pathways that are solidified each time we engage with the information which improves the brain’s neuroplasticity.
The amazing thing about learning is that this doesn’t have to be classroom-based. We can learn to play a musical instrument or a new language through an online course or an app. It doesn’t have to be formal learning either. We can learn new hobbies such as carpentry, sewing, knitting, or painting. These all activate the same areas of the brain associated with learning and stretch the brain’s functionality.
No matter what stage of life we are at, we can continually take care of our body and brain to stay healthy and strong. Eating right, maintaining healthy sleep habits, and exercising both physically and mentally are all ways we ensure our brain stays flexible and adaptable while we age.