A person’s existence has a significant impact on their brain health. How you manage stress, how well you socialize, how well you sleep, how much you exercise, and what you drink and eat are all crucial to brain health. So how do you achieve brain health? The Cleveland Clinic identifies six pillars of brain health that can help you achieve optimal brain health, even into old age.
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#1: Physical exercise
You need to get your body moving because those who exercise on a regular basis have a decreased risk of coming down with Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise can improve both your memory and your blood flow. It also causes chemical changes in the brain that boost thinking and mood. It is important to exercise and stay fit to have a healthy brain.
Exercise can prolong your life, reduce the risk of heart disease, maximize sleep, help you lose weight, and improve your mood. The mind is closely linked to the body so the more exercise you get, the better your mind functions. Try regular exercise to develop a strong memory. And try to incorporate balance, strength, aerobic, and flexibility exercises. You don’t need to run a marathon or lift huge weights. Just try to move throughout the day.
Walking, biking, hiking, and swimming are good choices for aerobic activity. Yoga, Tai Chi, and different stretching exercises will help with flexibility. Walking heel to toe, backward and sideways, standing on one leg, and Yoga or Tai Chi are options for balance. Finally, squats, planks, biceps/triceps work, and lunges are exercises for strength.
Yoga for Beginners by Susan Neal is a book that includes 60 basic yoga poses. These exercises will help with flexibility and stress relief. It also comes with a downloadable 45-minute yoga class.
#2: Food and nutrition
There is some truth to the adage “you are what you eat.” By making good food choices every day, you can improve the health of your brain. As you age, your brain is subjected to stress that can be harmful to your brain health. The process by which stress affects brain health is known as “oxidation,” which can be damaging to your brain health.
Foods that are high in antioxidants can help reduce the negative effects of oxidation. Eating 3-4 servings a day of these foods is beneficial to your brain health as well as your overall health. Examples of antioxidant-rich foods include:
- Wild blueberries
- Dark chocolate
- Goji berries
- Kidney beans
- Artichoke (boiled)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Wild-caught salmon
Eating a diet consisting of mainly whole foods is recommended. There are many different “diets” out there that you could follow. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, mainly a plant-based diet, protects cognitive function. If you are gluten sensitive, you may find the Whole30 or Paleo diets are a better fit.
If you would like more information, here are few books:
The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners by Rockridge Press
The Whole30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
Paleo for Beginners by John Chatham
#3: Medical health
Good brain health starts with controlling your medical risks. Things like smoking, high cholesterol, head trauma, depression, obesity, and diabetes all increase a person’s chances of developing dementia. If you get regular check-ups and follow your doctor’s advice (that means taking medications as prescribed), you will be better both physically and mentally.
Your brain is happier when you take care of your medical health. People who are overweight have an increased risk of diabetes, which can lead to dementia. It is important to keep your healthcare provider informed and that you have regular checkups.
#4: Sleep and relaxation
Your brain functions better when you are well rested. Sleep is energizing. It improves your immune system, enhances your mood, and restarts the brain. It may also decrease the development of beta-amyloid plaque, which is linked to Alzheimer’s dementia. Anyone who has had to stay awake for an extended period, or got a bad night’s sleep knows how much of an impact this has on mental functioning, focus, and concentration.
If you have trouble with sleeping, try meditation to manage your stress levels, which may also help to decrease the age-related loss of brain health. Few things can help you feel better than getting enough sleep. It sharpens the brain and helps maximize the brain. Essential oils can also be helpful.
A couple of other related blog posts on sleep:
7 Essentials for a Good Sleep Environment
7 Rules to Reduce Stress and Improve Sleep
Do You Have Anxiety? It Could Be Affecting Your Sleep
#5: Mental fitness
Brain health depends on using your mind to its maximum ability. Those who spend much of their time in front of a television are not stimulating the brain and exercising it in a way that promotes growth and power. This is similar to muscle atrophy from lack of movement.
Getting enough mental exercise is just as critical as physical exercise for brain health. Mental exercise can maximize your ability to promote brain cell growth and improve the functioning of your brain. It can decrease the chances of developing Alzheimer’s dementia. Just as you exercise your muscles, you need to exercise your brain.
There is something known as “brain reserve,” which helps the brain respond and adapt to mental changes and reduce the risk that your brain will sustain damage. Your brain reserve starts when you are a child and only gets stronger when you get older. If you persist in developing new interests and skills, engage in things that are interesting, partake in new activities, and continue to learn new things, it will maximize your brain reserve.
Playing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords, chess, card games, or even finding apps for your phone for brain games is not only fun but also healthy.
Try Brain Games – The Game or Brain Games #1 spiral-bound book.
#6: Social interaction
People who maintain social interaction and remain connected with others have better brain health. Try to engage in conversation with others, spend time with others, and stay in touch with loved ones. Volunteer your time or services, find a hobby to share with a friend, or adopt a pet. Those people who have the most social interaction enjoy better brain health. Even introverts can find a small group of trusted friends.
Reducing Risks For Mental Health Conditions
We cannot always avoid mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. However, there are things we can do to reduce risk factors. For one, avoiding or dealing with chronic stress can help reduce your risks for depression and anxiety conditions. Additionally, learning healthy coping skills for dealing with life’s problems and your own emotions can help prevent going into a depressive spiral. One of the biggest considerations in this respect is the health of our relationships; we actually have more control than we might have in other life situations.
You may want to consider seeking professional help. Medication might help to ease symptoms. Also talking it out can be beneficial. Professionals can provide guidance and support, give cognitive exercises, and develop a plan to help you combat your problems. You don’t have to do it alone. And you aren’t weak to seek treatment.
I suffer from anxiety, and I’m still trying to find ways to reduce panic attacks. Seeking therapy has been beneficial. Diffusing essential oils has helped to calm me. One book I recently read and found useful is Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado. He goes through steps to help you weed out the chaos.
Brain health is so important. Taking care of YOU is important, too! Your family and friends need you.
**Note: The contents of this post are for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek advice from your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your medical condition.