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Mentally Fit

Just like your muscles need exercise, your brain needs mental workouts to stay in shape.

Article
Ashton Greer
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
February 28, 2020

Your brain is the most amazing part of your body. Not only does it manage your memory, thoughts, and behavior, but it controls breathing and your heart. But it’s easy to take it for granted. Many people don’t start thinking about brain health until they notice some cognitive changes and memory loss in their 60s or 70s.  

Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. And who hasn’t misplaced car keys? Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline.

While it is true that the brain will begin to slow down due to aging, our brains are still able to be reshaped because of the brain’s ability to change. And that’s why it is crucial to get a head start in keeping your mind running at peak levels. This will increase your thinking skills and strengthen the bond between brain cells.

The truth is, there’s no single “miracle cure” for memory problems or other brain changes that come with aging. But there is cause for optimism. Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic health habits. Science points to a combination of social factors and healthy habits that — taken together — can help you build, preserve, and protect your brain’s function over time.

Go back to school
Returning to school may sound dreadful, but a higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep brains healthy by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.

Give your brain a break
Taking work breaks during our day isn’t being lazy; it’s about working with our brain the way it was designed. We have peaks and troughs of energy cycling through 90-minute periods during our day. Taking a 20-minute break between each of these allows us to get more done, at a higher level, in less time and with energy left to spare. Take a look at your daily schedule and see when you can next give your brain the break it deserves.

Stay fit
Both cardio and weight-bearing exercises have positive effects on the brain for learning and memory. It can even help your brain create new cells.

Exercising as little as 15-30 minutes a day can improve your brain health. As you exercise, more blood can flow to the brain, which is crucial for brain function. Make physical activity fun and go on a walk, take a bike ride, or even do some laps in the pool.

Meditate
Not only will 5-10 minutes of mindful meditation calm your brain and make it easier to sleep, but meditation has also been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, and confusion. Meditation can benefit people with insomnia by helping them fall asleep and stay asleep. It also helps with inflammation in the brain. Most people find not only do they sleep better, but they can also focus better and are not as anxious.

Stay engaged socially
Loneliness is a quick route to mental decline. While we may not realize it, simply going to eat with a friend, enjoying time with family, and even having a conversation with a stranger can stimulate our brains. Socializing is one of the best kinds of brain exercises because having a more social life has a positive correlation with slower memory decline. But, if you are more of an introvert, pets too can aid in this stimulation.

Use your other hand
If you’re right-handed, use your left hand (or vice versa) for daily activities such as brushing your teeth and eating. Doing such activities can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand.

Eat brain-healthy foods
When you are fueling your body, you are also feeding your brain. This is very important to know because if you engage in an unhealthy diet, you are at risk for temporary or even permanent brain damage. To prevent this type of damage from occurring, try to include brain-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains.

Get a good night’s sleep
Whether you are someone who works late or is a night owl, it is important to make sure that you are receiving at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. This allows your brain to take a break and consolidate all of the learning that occurred during the day. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough have more trouble learning new information while sleeping well after learning something new helps the brain effectively put that information into long-term memory.

Get mental stimulation
The key to increasing the brain’s function of neuroplasticity is to make your brain sweat from time to time. Provide your brain with a workout by engaging in a variety of different activities such as puzzles, reading, drawing, and taking courses. Although, when you do these exercises, don’t get too comfortable with one. It’s just like when working out a muscle. You are not going to become stronger if you use the same amount of weight. Always try to participate in something new so that your brain can continue to grow and develop.

Reduce stress
Managing your stress can be one of the most crucial things you can do when trying to keep your brain healthy. Chronic stress comes with brain cells being destroyed, and the hippocampus is affected, which aids in providing new memories in the brain. So, take some action to manage your stress by focusing on one task at a time, creating an organized schedule, and even merely communicating with your friends and family about your feelings.