From Food to Fitness and Fun: 7 Lifestyle Changes To Boost Brain Health This Year
It’s the time of year when many of us consider implementing healthier diet and exercise regimens to improve our physical health. But did you know that many of those changes can also improve brain health?
All of the elements of mental and physical health and fitness — including exercise, sleep, stress management, and socialization — are critical to maintaining a healthy brain. Many of them can even help reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia as you age.
So as you make plans to start the new year off on a healthy note, consider incorporating some or all of the following lifestyle changes to help boost brain health and feel your best this year.
1. Incorporate Regular Physical Exercise
Embarking on a new exercise regime is a common element in many of our health and fitness resolutions for the new year. Having a regular exercise routine can not only help you maintain a healthy body, but can boost your brain health as well.
Exercising regularly lowers your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, improves blood flow to the brain, boosts memory, and stimulates chemicals in the brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking.
- A simple daily walk can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and increase your life expectancy
- Endurance exercise (such as running, swimming, or cycling) can help preserve your existing brain cells and promote new brain cell growth
- Strength training (including lifting weights) can improve mood, enhance concentration, and increase decision-making skills
Try to incorporate a variety of exercise into your routine, including aerobic exercise, strength training, and exercise that promotes flexibility and balance, such as yoga or Tai Chi.
2. Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting enough sleep is another important key to a healthy brain. Sleep refreshes your energy, improves your mood, supports your immune system, and boosts your memory. It may even reduce buildup in your brain of a protein called beta-amyloid plaque, which is tied to Alzheimer’s disease.
As often as possible, try to get 7-8 consecutive hours of sleep per night (or more for children and teens). An unbroken stretch of sleep like this allows your brain to more effectively consolidate and store memories.
If you struggle with sleep apnea, insomnia, or other sleep struggles, talk with your doctor about available options that can help. Regularly talking with a therapist may prove beneficial as well. In addition, stress management and mindfulness activities like meditation can improve sleep and boost brain health.
3. Add More Nutritious Foods to Your Diet
Many lifestyle and environmental factors can cause oxidative stress, which can damage your body’s cells, including your brain cells. Foods rich in antioxidants — such as fresh fruits and vegetables — help protect your brain from the harm that oxidation can cause.
In addition, foods high in saturated fat (like red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy products) have been associated not only with heart disease, but with Alzheimer’s disease as well. Try to limit your intake of these foods, replacing them with brain-boosting options like omega-3-rich fish, walnuts, or flaxseeds.
A Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to help maintain brain health and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of diet includes such brain food as fish, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, olives, and nuts.
Need a sweet treat after dinner? Try a bit of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants that may improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Unsweetened cocoa powder added to a smoothie or a square of dark chocolate with at least 72 percent cocoa solids can give you a chocolate fix while boosting your brain health.
4. Work To Reduce Medical Risks
Certain medical risks, such as head trauma, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, high cholesterol, and smoking can increase your likelihood of experiencing dementia as you age. High blood pressure can cause structural damage in the brain, which can speed mental decline. In addition, a diet high in salt and sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to declining brain function as well.
Maintain a healthy body and reduce your risk of these and other medical issues by:
- Getting an annual checkup
- Following your doctor’s recommendations
- Taking medications as prescribed
- Checking blood pressure regularly
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy diet
5. Practice Good Mental Fitness
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise in maintaining a healthy brain. Like your muscles, if you don’t lose them, you lose them.
Brain-stimulating games such as crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or card games work to “cross-train” your brain, in a sense, as does reading. Including a variety of these activities in your day-to-day life can help improve brain function and promote new brain cell growth.
These things also have the potential to increase something called “brain reserve”, which helps your brain adapt, respond to changes, and resist damage. Brain reserve develops throughout our lives, beginning in childhood. When we continue to learn new things, incorporate new activities, and develop new skills and interests we build our brain reserve.
Education, hobbies, games, and artistic creativity are all areas that help build brain reserve and improve our mental fitness.
6. Utilize Stress Management Techniques, Including Play!
When stressed, the human body releases cortisol, a hormone that can damage brain memory cells. Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help reduce cortisol in the body. Meditation can also improve focus and memory, reduce anxiety and depression, and potentially slow the effects of aging on your brain.
In addition to mindfulness exercises like meditation, good old-fashioned FUN can help reduce stress and maintain a healthy brain as well.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it can often be difficult to make time for fun. But play and laughter can help relieve stress, improve brain function, spur creativity, and improve our relationships with others. And while play is certainly important for a child’s growing brain, adults can benefit from play as well.
7. Stay Connected
Our relationships with friends and family can make our lives richer in so many ways. But did you know that staying connected to others can help protect your brain against memory loss?
It’s true. Studies have shown that people with a high amount of social interaction experience slower rates of memory decline than those that don’t. Staying connected to a social network helps reduce depression and anxiety — both of which can contribute to memory loss.
Take time throughout your week to connect with family and friends and make an effort to meet new people. Get involved in a sports, music, or other club or consider volunteering for a favorite charity. Adopting a pet can also help improve your physical, mental, and cognitive health and give you another outlet for social interaction with other pet owners.
Consider Brain Training With LearningRx To Boost Brain Health This Year
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