The brain is the most complex organ in the universe – and while many aspects of the brain remain a mystery (even to those who study it), one thing that is certain is that we should be doing what we can to take care of it.
Leading a healthy lifestyle will help to keep your brain functioning properly and to protect against brain disease and degeneration, not to mention the fact that it will lead to an overall improved quality of life. Here are some useful tips to follow, to help you to lead a brain-healthy life:
We all know that living an active lifestyle is important for our overall health. In terms of brain health, exercise increases a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is associated with cognitive improvement and the alleviation of depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that aerobic exercise three times a week resulted in increased activation in brain areas association with attention. In terms of the ageing brain, exercising three times a week was linked with 38% reduced risk of developing dementia in over 65s, and it has also been found that, for 60–75-year-olds, those who engaged in aerobic exercise had brains that boasted significantly improved executive function skills, such as working memory, planning, and scheduling.
Social support is like a fertiliser for the brain – it stimulates cell growth and strengthens connections in the brain, particularly in those areas associated with memory. Taking part in a variety of different leisure activities has been found to be linked to a 38% lower risk of developing dementia in those aged over 65, while another study found that those who reported little or no close social networks were at a 60% increased risk of developing dementia. It is even thought that social interaction may produce brain benefits which are greater than those produced by brain workouts such as crossword puzzles and chess!
Certain brain-boosting foods contain essential vitamins and minerals and promote the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, resulting in healthy brain functioning and increased mood. Nourish your brain and your body with foods such as: leafy greens, bananas, brazil nuts, walnuts, berries, oily fish, seeds, pomegranate, mint, and dark chocolate. Drinking water is also incredibly important for proper brain function – staying hydrated is linked to improved cognitive processing, memory, and reaction time, as well as prevention of grey matter shrinkage, premature ageing, and mental fatigue. The general recommendation is 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day, but this should be increased if you are doing a lot of exercise or if you are in a particularly hot or humid climate.
Sleep is essential for our brain to run smoothly. Not getting the required amount of sleep can result in deficits in attention, decision-making, and memory. There are different recommended hours of sleep depending on age, but generally 7-9 hours of sleep per night are recommended for adults under 65, while 7-8 hours per night are recommended for adults over 65.
Meditation is associated with a host of health benefits – including reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and improved attention and concentration. Research has indicated that meditation can have positive impacts on the brain, also. Meditation has been shown to result in volume changes in the brain – it results in more grey matter volume in the brain, meaning that it helps to preserve the ageing brain, and it also leads to increased volume in the hippocampus (the brain area associated with learning and memory) and decreased volume in the amygdala (the brain area responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress). One study even found that Buddhist monks, who had engaged in years and years of meditation, had brains which were more capable of change, and, therefore, more resilient.