As we grow older, we become aware of changes in our bodies and we need to work a little harder at our general conditioning. Habits that seemed harmless when we were in our 20s, like smoking, drinking and eating badly, become more detrimental. Our workouts or exercise routines might be a bit gentler these days, but we are more reliable about sticking with it. We are no longer determined to rock that bikini but more interested in adding quality, and perhaps years, to our lives.
But what about our brain health? We focus on our bodies – our weight, blood pressure, skin tone, stiffening joints – but we often neglect the very thing that controls them, that regulates EVERYTHING else. What can we do to preserve our most precious organ and therefore promote both physical and mental health?
Physical exercise actually benefits our brand more than you’d think. If you’re a runner, you are familiar with endorphins and likely run as much for mental health as physical. Science backs that up. Research strongly suggests that exercise prompts new neural connections. A 2007 study found that exercise stimulates neural connections in the part of the brain responsible for age-related memory decline. So, give your brain a workout!
Keep learning – There is a clear connection between advanced education and good cognitive functioning. Mentally stimulating activities like reading, taking classes or playing a musical instrument can improve your cognitive functioning.
Reduce toxins: Besides the obvious, like don’t sniff glue, there are other things we can do to protect our grey matter. (Stand upwind when pumping gas, for example.) But we should also be careful about alcohol consumption, which works by depriving brain cells of oxygen.
Avoid inflammation: When our immune systems react to an infection, it sends chemicals called cytokines throughout our bodies. Cytokines can linger in the brain, leading to unstable moods and even Depression. Practice habits that reduce colds and flu, like washing your hands often. Avoid foods that activate your immune system. For example, many people have allergic reactions to gluten grains or dairy products. Consider drastically reducing one or both in your diet for two weeks and see if you notice a difference in your mental (or physical) health.
Minimize stress – easier said than done, I know. I’ve been reading a lot about Cortisol, the steroid hormone produced in the adrenal gland. It suppresses the immune system and also decreases bone growth. Cortisol inhibits memory. Hydrocortisone is a name for Cortisol as a prescribed medication. Prednisolone can also be used as cortisol replacement. Compared to hydrocortisone, prednisolone is about four times as strong in it’s anti-inflammatory effect. Dangerous stuff, if taken long term, yet doctors seem to be prescribing it more and more. Another reason to work at remaining healthy and avoiding infections. So, take a walk, learn to meditate – do whatever you can to reduce your stress!
Maintain our blood sugar levels: Cortisol is also released in response low blood-glucose concentration in our blood. Avoid spikes in your blood sugar by eating a balanced diet and regular exercise (of course!)
Diet – scientists have determined that certain nutrients are associated with improved cognitive function (memory). Eating a diet full of them helps you protect your brain.
- Dark chocolate
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, spinach)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna)
- Magnesium (supplements or spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate and bananas)
- Green tea
Be grateful! I know that is sort of trendy. But I’ve seen some studies that say regularly practicing and expressing gratitude helps our brains to feel happiness and to have a more positive outlook. We can actually transform the way we view the world. By spending a few minutes every day listing three things for which we are grateful, we automatically start to see more positive things in our lives! That, my friends, betters our chances of succeeding at just about everything else.
Our brains control all of our other bodily systems. It is the source of our thoughts, emotions, creativity, joy and sorrow. Without question, it is the most important organ in our bodies. I find that dancing keeps my brain challenged by learning and remembering the steps while also giving me a cardio workout. Walking has double benefits, too – it’s my thinking time. I can tell you, from experience, that learning to play a musical instrument is cognitive AND emotional calisthenics! And who doesn’t like an excuse to eat dark chocolate?!