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Perhaps because of my age I am more aware of brain health than ever before. All brains change with age. That’s inevitable. And as our brains change, cognitive decline is common. It’s so common, in fact, that losing brain function is the number one fear among older adults.
Fortunately, we don’t have to just sit around and wait for cognitive function to decline. Here are the best tips to keep your brain young and healthy.
A nutrient dense diet is not just good for the body, it is good for the brain as well. The brain is an energy intensive organ, using about 20% of the body’s calories. Those who eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, unsaturated fats and plant based proteins such as legumes are less likely to develop dementia.
Omega-3 fatty acids help build and repair brain cells. And foods high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories reduce cellular stress and inflammation, which are linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, reducing blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and blood pressure contributes to heart health, which in turn benefits the brain.
The following foods are the best for supporting brain health:
Fruits – apples, apricots, berries of all kinds, coconuts, dates, grapes, mangoes, melons, papayas, pomegranates
Vegetables – Atlantic sea vegetables, celery juice, leafy greens, potatoes, radishes, sprouts/microgreens
Herbs – cat’s claw, cilantro, ginger, licorice root
Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds or oil
If you are experiencing brain fog avoid: tobacco, alcohol, dairy products, eggs, wheat and MSG.
Move the Body to Benefit the Brain
Regularly moving the body boosts brain health. Studies show that frequent exercise increases the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen rich blood to the region of the brain responsible for thought. Exercise also creates new nerve cells and increases the connection between cells.
A well oxygenated brain is more adaptive and operates more efficiently. Combined with a nutritious diet, exercise helps to lower blood pressure and high cholesterol and balance blood sugar levels, which reduces mental stress while supporting the heart and the brain.
Suggestions for moving your body:
- walking, hiking, jogging, biking, aerobic exercise, low impact sports
- dance, zumba, stretching, yoga
- swimming, water aerobics
- muscle training twice a week
- playing with grandchildren
- walking the dog, as long as your pet cannot overpower you and pull you off balance
Doctors find that stimulating the brain creates fresh connections between nerve cells and helps the brain generate new cells. The brain ends up with a reserve that protects against future cell loss.
This is the fun part of keeping the brain young. Any mentally stimulating activity boosts new connections. Try these activities regularly:
- read, especially in new genres or subject areas
- take a class, learn a language, cook different foods
- work puzzles, play games, solve word or math problems
- enjoy hobbies and learn new ones, especially those that require thought and dexterity such as painting, drawing, sewing and crafts
- have fun, play, create, make up songs, write poems or stories
- my favorite – try new experiences, do a familiar task in a fresh way, drive a different way to the store, listen to an unfamiliar genre of music, learn about technology
Anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and exhaustion contribute to cognitive function. When those conditions become chronic the risk for cognitive decline increases. Good mental health and getting enough rest, lowering anxiety and managing stress help maintain a healthy, youthful brain.
For chronic conditions, seek medical help. To support and maintain emotional wellbeing, try these:
- get enough sleep, at least seven hours per night
- nap during the day, if needed
- do what makes you happy
- find joy in life
- practice gratitude
- live in the now rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future
- talk to a trusted friend or family member about minor fears, anxiety or depression
- express emotions in healthy ways
Strong connections to family, friends and pets lower the risks of dementia and increase life expectancy. Isolation can have a negative impact on some people and especially on older adults.
Positive emotional bonds contribute to a more active lifestyle, better eating habits and greater emotional health. And caring for pets and loving on them helps to reduce stress, lowers blood pressure (unless you have naughty pets!) and increases social interactions.
Try these suggestions:
- volunteer at schools, shelters, hospitals, charities
- spend time with family, friends and pets
- expand your circle of acquaintances and meet new people
- join a club, attend church, take lessons in a classroom setting
- go on group outings such as field trips, nature walks, museum tours
- encourage grandchildren to teach the latest technology or slang
- attend group activities such as dances, yoga sessions, bird watching, quilting
- offer your wisdom and teach a class
- mentor one on one with youth or young adults
- travel with a group
There are many benefits from aging well, aging gracefully. One of those benefits is a mind that remains sharp. Awareness and putting these tips into practice gives the brain a much better chance of aging gracefully as well and remaining agile and healthy.
And trust me, it’s not too early to put these health practices in place. A healthier body equals a healthier mind equals a higher quality of life.
What tips will you adopt?
Check out Lumosity, the brain training app that improves memory, increases focus and helps you feel sharper.
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