The brain is your control center, playing an instrumental role in just about every major body system. Your brain allows you to have emotions, communicate your feelings, coordinate your movements, and control all your actions. It allows you to do all the things that make you human.
As the most amazing and powerful part of your body, you can intentionally contribute toward keeping your brain healthy. Research has shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some good basic health habits.
In 2020 and beyond, we at The American Brain Society encourage you to be mindful of your brain and the many ways you can contribute to its vitality. Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. EMBRACE A HEALTHY, BALANCED DIET.
The saying, “You are what you eat,” could not be truer in regard to your brain. While we can’t control everything that happens to our bodies, the foods we eat do influence the structure and health of our brains, supporting both short- and long-term function.
This means incorporating a diet low in saturated and trans fats and chock full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. For many people, this means adopting a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and avocados, while limiting red meat OR the MIND diet – a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy DASH diet, with an extra emphasis on berries and leafy greens. This diet was created specifically to boost brain health and has been shown to lower the odds of Alzheimer’s disease.
A few superfoods that can help maintain brain health include:
- Wild salmon
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts & seeds
2. KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY.
To keep your brain healthy, pay attention to your cardiovascular health. Keeping blood easily moving through your heart and blood vessels is crucial to maintaining the strength and longevity of your brain.
Says Dr. Elise Caccappolo, PhD, an associate professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York to Webmd, “High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and diabetes all increase the risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases by impeding blood flow to the brain.”
The most important strategy, she says, is to stay on top of your heart health and work closely with your doctor to ensure your blood is pumping easily and effectively.
3. MAKE MOVEMENT A PRIORITY.
Keeping physically active is key to keeping your brain working. Studies show that at least 150 minutes of exercise per week will help to keep your brain sharp, improving cognitive function, slowing down the mental aging process and helping us process information more effectively.
Not only will you keep fit and build strength, but exercise boosts blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown it can increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, which naturally shrinks as you age.
Participate in physical activity you enjoy whether it’s walking, tai chi, yoga classes, or going for a swim, but the bottom line is this…
DON’T STOP MOVING!
4. GET PLENTY OF REST.
Your brain is working non-stop all day, and the best way to keep it in tip-top shape is by shutting off for at least seven-nine hours per night. Studies show that inadequate sleep is linked to slower thinking and the risk of dementia.
“Sleep is the most important thing you can do to reset the brain, allowing it to heal, and to restore mental health,” says Romie Mushtaq, MD, a neurologist, and integrative medicine specialist.
Sleep medications can sometimes make cognitive problems worse; we suggest talking to your doctor about creating healthy habits so that you can get proper rest each night.
5. IF YOU SMOKE, QUIT. IF YOU DRINK ALCOHOL, LIMIT YOURSELF.
We all know that smoking causes lung disease along with numerous other health problems, but it can also increase your risk of cognitive decline. If you’re a smoker, now is a great time to stop, as quitting can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those non-smokers.
Having a drink is fine but within moderation. According to Dr. Eric B. Larson, Executive Director, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, “Drinking has a stronger effect on our bodies as we age. Experts advise a limit of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.”
6. STAY SOCIAL AND CONNECTED.
A big part of keeping your brain sharp and healthy is maintaining an active social life. Being engaged with family, friends and your community is good for both your physical and mental health.
According to Dr. Caccappolo, “When you’re socializing, the blood circulates to several different parts of your brain as you’re listening and formulating responses.”
Additionally, if you’re connecting with others socially, you can help stave off depression, which can negatively hamper how well your brain is working. Dr. Caccappolo says, “If you’re depressed or anxious, the brain becomes so occupied with what-ifs and worries that it’s not able to give 100% to learning new things.”
7. USE ALL OF YOUR SENSES.
Studies show that the more senses you use to learn something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining memory. Consider challenging all your senses where possible.
A few ideas include:
- Try cooking classes where you’re reading recipes, learning from the instructor, physically participating in making a dish and tasting the food as you go
- By taking yoga classes, you’re listening to the yoga instructor and the music in the background, while moving your body and engaging your mind
8. NOURISH YOUR SOUL.
No matter how healthy you eat or how much you exercise, your brain needs time to settle and slow down. Don’t wait until you find yourself feeling stressed or mentally exhausted to engage in self-care.
Feed your body, mind, AND soul by engaging in things such as meditation or deep breathing exercises. Research shows that five-ten minutes of mindful meditation can help calm your brain, making it easier to sleep and reducing anxiety, depression, fatigue, and confusion.
9. KEEP YOUR MIND STIMULATED BY TRYING NEW THINGS.
Regardless of your age, don’t stop learning! Experts say that building new skills throughout your life will help keep your brain healthy by constantly creating new connections between brain cells.
Step out of your comfort zone, and challenge yourself with new games, puzzles, and hobbies. Consider learning a new skill or participate in your community doing a project that isn’t familiar to you.
Says Dr. Caccappolo says, “The more intellectual stimulation you have, the more various neural circuits are used. And the more circuits you have, the harder it is for the changes associated with neurodegenerative diseases to manifest.”
10. SET BOUNDRIES.
Our brains are often in overdrive, constantly bombarded with professional and personal demands. To maintain optimal brain health, you need to rest and recharge.
This means creating and setting boundaries – disconnect from work when you can, put your device to the side, and say nowhere possible. Plan time away so that you can mentally recharge. Make a conscious effort to have a balance in your life.
By setting necessary boundaries, you’re giving yourself permission to relax…your brain, body, and mind will thank you later!
YOUR BRAIN NEEDS YOU.
We hope that 2020 finds you taking conscious steps toward a healthier brain.
For further information and additional resources, please visit us at http://americanbrainsociety.org/.