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Brain Fitness - Five Steps to a Happier, Healthier Brain
Posted in: Aging Well
Are you giving your brain the love and respect it deserves? It’s the body’s most vital organ – controlling us physically, but also registering and recording our lives.
Not surprisingly, dementia and general loss of brain function is a top health fear among adults of all ages. Keeping your brain in good working order is receiving more and more attention these days. Ads for brain fitness programs are everywhere lately. And studies on brain health are becoming as commonplace as those on physical health.
So what are the best strategies for keeping your brain healthy? Sustained effort is key when implementing any strategy. It takes work to keep a complicated organ such as our brain in optimum condition. Follow these five simple steps to keep your mind bright.
By the time we reach retirement age our brains have mastered many tasks. We have to think of creative ways to surprise our brain. For this reason change is vital to brain health. Change your routines, change your environment, make new friends, have different conversations, listen to different music, try new foods. List the most familiar things in your life — then change them!
Don’t let your brain get bored. Stimulate it with lots of new, refreshing information. Read articles, visit museums, study a new topic or take up a new hobby. That awkward, uncomfortable feeling you may remember from your first day on the job is exactly the feeling you want to replicate. What are the best new things to learn? A foreign language or a musical instrument. Sign language anyone?
Experts agree that aerobic exercise has the greatest benefit in terms of helping your brain stay young. Encourage important blood flow to the brain by doing at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic activity such as brisk walking each week. Start where you can and gradually build up from there. Setting small, monthly goals keeps your efforts focused and on track. Don’t believe us? A Mayo Clinic study of sedentary adults found that those who exercised five to six times a week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent compared to non-active adults. When exercise was started in mid-life, that benefit improved to 39 percent.
Keep those arteries – in your heart and your brain – from getting stiff and clogged with fat by eating plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains. Stick with healthy fats such as those in nuts, avocados and olive oil. Include plenty of lean protein and fiber to round things out. Try to fill half your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants and supply important nutrients. Avoid white flour found in breads and pastries. Losing those extra pounds helps too. Studies show maintaining a healthy weight equals a better chance at a healthy brain.
Human beings are social creatures. Our brain is designed to interact with others and derives great benefit from socializing with others and close relationships. When we are happy our brains are happy. When we are stressed or depressed the brain releases a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol in small doses is useful for alertness and concentration. But when it lingers it attacks the cells in our hippocampus, where memories are formed. Getting plenty of sleep is part of this equation also. Sleep is important for relaxing and renewing our minds. So meet some buddies, have a laugh, don’t sweat the big stuff and get plenty of shut-eye!