Health experts have long established that being active can help you maintain proper physical function as you age. But did you know that this strategy also applies to good brain health?
There are steps you can take to both make your brain more effective now and to potentially avoid debilitating cognitive conditions in the future.
Below are nine such steps. And the best part about them? They’re not complicated and should be straightforward to incorporate into your everyday.
Get Quality Sleep
Many of us find it increasingly difficult to get a good night’s sleep, something that’s vital for your brain. But, developing good sleep habits is often just a matter of providing the right conditions.
For starters, your room temperature should be slightly cooler than during the day. You should also ensure the clothes you sleep in are loose and comfortable.
Avoid eating late in the evening to prevent digestive upset and higher blood sugar levels. And, if hunger keeps you awake, have only a small bit of protein, such as a piece of cheese or a thin slice of turkey.
Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
Don’t exercise right before bedtime, either. Doing so may invigorate you, making falling asleep more difficult.
To sleep well during the night, your choice of pillow is also essential. Choose one that correctly supports your head and neck.
If light bothers you, install room-darkening shades or put a blanket over the window. And if you live on a busy street, consider a white noise machine or fan to help you sleep more soundly.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet every day is another critical way in which you can maintain proper brain function throughout your life.
A diet that is rich in green, leafy vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, berries, avocados, flaxseeds, and whole grains will provide the vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids that are most beneficial for brain health.
You should avoid processed foods whenever possible, opting instead for fresh alternatives that are free of additives and preservatives.
Also, stay clear of foods that are high in salt and sugar. Doing so will help you manage your weight, enhance your health, and ultimately improve your brain function.
A regular exercise regime is not only good for your body, but it’s also great for the mind.
Exercise improves blood circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients into the brain. It helps to manage weight and lower blood pressure too.
Physical activity also helps improve insulin resistance and reduces inflammation. Both those things translate to better brain health.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Exercise can relieve depression and anxiety, which clouds normal brain function. It can also stimulate the production of human growth factors, which help the development of new blood vessels in the brain.
Any brain exercise will do, whether it’s playing tennis, riding a bike or taking brisk walks in the park. It’s an easy way to maintain and improve your cognitive functions. Take advantage regularly.
Stimulate Your Brain
New experiences help create new brain connections, which results in better cognitive function and memory.
Reading about new things, learning a foreign language, staying informed on current events, and even attending concerts or plays all provide your brain with mental stimulation.
Why not take a class at your local community center on knitting, scrapbooking, programming, or photography?
Even socializing with friends and colleagues can be beneficial. Play cards, go to the movies, organize a party, or enjoy a community event. All these activities help to keep your mind healthy and sharp.
Do Brain Training
Many of us enjoy Sudoku or do crossword puzzles as a cognitive exercise to keep the mind engaged. These types of activities are great and can help you develop new brain connections resulting in clearer everyday thinking.
Start with simple brain games that can be adapted to more complex training as you increase your capacity. These games should challenge you, without being so complicated that you can’t get better with practice.
Also, you should try to vary the types of activities, to build a broader capacity in your mental function.
And since not all brain-training programs are alike, don’t be discouraged if the first ones you try aren’t to your liking. Instead, move on to the next one.
Develop a Mindfulness Habit
Mindfulness is the mental state of being fully present in the moment. It is being aware of yourself and your surroundings in a focused, immediate way. It helps you let go of past preconceptions and expectations about the future and allows you to experience what is happening right now.
Research studying mindfulness has found that it can be beneficial in several ways.
It can help reduce stress and improve heart function. It can lower blood pressure and improve mood. It can also reduce chronic pain, encourage healthy sleep, and increase positive thinking.
Meditation is an excellent way to develop the habit of mindfulness, eliminating the random, intrusive thoughts that impede clear thinking.
You can probably find a meditation class in your community to learn this essential stress-relieving technique. Tai chi and yoga also utilize meditative techniques that can increase mental health and well being.
Cultivate Healthy Relationships
Good times with friends and family have a beneficial effect on brain function, allowing us to entertain new ideas and engage in different conversational styles. These activities help keep brain connections fresh and fluid, improving thought patterns, and memory.
On the flip side, stressful relationships harm the mind and can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
So, choose your companions wisely.
Maintain a Positive Outlook
A healthy, positive outlook on life is also vital for proper brain function.
Life can be stressful, and common upsets can affect your ability to enjoy activities and function properly. Maintaining a positive mental outlook will help you to look outside yourself and find greater meaning.
If you are a religious person, your faith can help you see the silver lining in difficult situations.
If religion is not your thing, make a strong effort of looking for the good in life, to help both your body and mind function more effectively.
Scientific research shows that smoking has a detrimental effect on brain function as it damages the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to brain cells.
People who have never smoked are less likely to develop various forms of dementia that can occur as we age.
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to stop.
Many people find nicotine-replacement products helpful. Your doctor can provide medications that will help you quit smoking too.
There are also plenty of quit smoking programs available. They offer support during the process of quitting and can help maintain a non-smoking lifestyle after that.
If you are proactive about it, you can help reduce the risks of various cognitive diseases and increase the odds of maintaining a healthy brain throughout your life.
You should be able to easily incorporate at least some of the above nine measures into your everyday. They’re not complicated and can foster significant cognitive benefits.
Your hobbies, social contacts, friendships, and family interactions can all contribute to a healthier mind. And managing conditions like as diabetes and high blood pressure makes a significant difference too.
Stimulate your brain by reading, learning new things, getting out into the world, and exploring new ideas and technology. These activities will help you promote better mental function and brain health now and well into your later years.