1. FEED YOUR BRAIN
There are hundreds of foods and nutrients claimed to support brain health, including chocolate and red wine. As wonderful as that sounds, not all of those claims are backed by science. By contrast, the tried-and-true foods that support the brain are well established:
- Green leafy vegetables. Spinach, kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens provide important nutrients for the brain such as vitamin K, folate, and carotenoids rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene and lutein.
- Fatty fish. Wild caught, fatty fish provide an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential polyunsaturated fat that we must get from our diet. Fish provide omega-3 fats rich in EPA and DHA. One reason these healthy fats are crucial to brain health is because DHA is literally a building block for the brain, eyes, and nervous system. In fact, DHA is such an important fatty acid for the brain that it will take in DHA over other available fats. If you have concerns about consuming fish regularly, a fresh and high-quality fish oil supplement can be a big help.
- Berries. Cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are not only delicious but bright and colourful too. The natural plant pigments that create those brilliant hues are flavonoids that support our circulatory system and our brain.
- Walnuts. This wonderful source of healthy fat provides another omega-3 fatty acid: ALA. This essential fatty acid can help support healthy brain function. However, for most people, it can’t replace the need for direct EPA and DHA.
2. MOVE YOUR BODY
Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise seemed to increase the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory. Interestingly, it was noted that resistance and muscle training did not seem to have the same effect. Their research indicated that the effect was both direct (stimulating circulation and hormone release) as well as indirect (supporting mood, sleep, and healthy stress levels).
Benefit to the brain was shown with two one-hour sessions per week, but 30-minute sessions spaced throughout the week is considered equally beneficial. And just what was this magical and important exercise? Brisk walking. Walking is an activity that is often dismissed as not intense enough, but it’s an exercise with tremendous benefits. And since socialisation is also important for our health, try walking with a loved one or group of friends!
3. KEEP YOUR MIND ACTIVE
Researchers seem to be undecided about whether games, such as crossword puzzles, actually improve brain function. But there are some activities they do agree can help maintain brain function:
- Learning new skills. Higher levels of education are associated with better brain function later in life. Experts speculate that learning trains the brain to be mentally active throughout life. Continuing to challenge your brain with mental exercise may stimulate existing and new communications between brain cells, supporting brain function. Finding ways to exercise your brain is easy. Something as simple as taking up a new hobby or volunteering where you have to learn a new skill can be a fun way to enjoy exercising your brain.
- Using all your senses. Different senses activate different parts of the brain. So, using as many senses as possible when you learn something new means more parts of your brain will be involved in creating that memory pattern. You may have experienced this at a time when a particular smell suddenly brought back a vivid memory. Don’t just wait until a task requires other senses, use your senses to experience a task in a different way.
- Believing in yourself. It turns out, our attitudes about ageing and the brain may help shape brain function as we age. Instead of perpetuating the stereotype of “senior moments” (which may make us less likely to work at maintaining brain function) believe you can help your memory, and then turn that belief into the action of practice.
- Using planning and memory tools. I’m going to admit, this is one of my personal favourites. This works for me and I can’t recommend it enough. Don’t make your brain remember everything! Put your glasses or keys in the same place every time. Use calendars and planners to keep track of important events like birthdays or meetings. Make lists and use maps or GPS to get places you don’t regularly go. Your brain does so much for you, taking up a little of the slack can go a long way.
- Repeating what you want to know. If remembering something is important (like the name of a new acquaintance), repeat what you want to remember out loud or write it down. This helps to reinforce the connection of memory. And to further reinforce this, do it more than once at different intervals. Don’t just repeat it several times within a short period, like cramming for an exam, but spread the exercise out over hours and even days.
Let the information here inspire you to think about brain health more often, pick a few suggestions from this list to practice regularly. Your brain will thank you.
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