Keep your brain sharp with these simple tips
By Michael Gonzalez-Wallace
Every day you wake up, you can either "use it or lose it." Your brainpower, that is. Cognitive abilities such as concentration, attention, memory, hearing and motor coordination, and executive functions like planning and multitasking deteriorate over the time unless used regularly.
Scientist used to think that the brain stopped growing and developing after a certain age — that a person had a finite brain capacity — until it would eventually deteriorate once the person reached old age. We now know that’s not true. In fact, current scientific research shows that what used to be considered “normal” memory loss as a result of aging (called age-related cognitive decline) is not necessarily normal at all. You can actually stimulate the brain and increase your brain capacity, or at least not lose any gray matter, throughout your life.
The ability of the brain to change and form new connections is a concept called brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity. It is greatly influenced — for better and worse! — by the foods you eat, getting enough (and the right kind of) exercise, being engaged socially, limiting stress and challenging your brain intellectually to learn new things.
Here are five simple things you can do to keep your brain sharp.
- Keep learning! Keep your mind motivated and your brain active in any field that makes you constantly learn: reading, problem solving, brain fitness exercises, learning a language, playing an instrument or a memory game.
- Exercise your brain by exercising your body with challenging movements. Exercise boosts brainpower on multiple fronts: it increases heart rate which helps pump more oxygen to your brain and it releases hormones which both control stress and help stimulate new brain cells and the formation of new connections. Studies have shown that the exercises that benefit your brain the most are those that call on multiple skills such as coordination, rhythm and strategy.
Here are three moves that challenge your brain and motor network, the group of nerve cell connections that help you move. (Want more? Try these three brain-boosting exercises.) Do this circuit daily:
• Raise your left arm overhead while lifting your right knee up to your chest. Repeat with your right arm and left leg. Repeat the entire set 10 times.
• Clap your hands overhead while raising your right leg. Repeat, raising your left leg.
• Balance on one leg closing both eyes. Hold for 10 seconds. Then repeat with the opposite leg. (This works your proprioceptors — sensors that provide information about joint angle, muscle length and muscle tension, which gives your brain a sense of your body position in space.)
At the very least, make sure you get some cardiovascular exercise daily. Even just 15 or 20 minutes of brisk walking daily will help your brain (and your heart!).
- Feed your brain. Eating can influence your brain in a powerful way. The best brain foods are those high in antioxidants and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and low in sugar and refined carbs. Make sure these five great brain foods are part of your diet: berries, salmon, walnuts, leafy greens and avocado.
- Be a social butterfly. Keep yourself socially active and make sure you are surrounded by great friends. You can join a book club, walking club or a gym. Research has shown that maintaining strong, meaningful relationships not only helps fight off depression, which can impair cognition, but social interaction actually stimulates the brain.
- Meditate daily. Chronic and acute, high stress, which most people today face in their daily lives, impairs memory and concentration. Meditation helps reduce stress and increase oxygen flow to the brain. Practice daily meditation to achieve a powerful, calmer mind and a more focused brain.
Life is about choices and choosing the right health program is really important for you. Your best days are yet to come!
Michael Gonzalez-Wallace is the author of Super Body, Super Brain and MedHelp’s Brain & Body Fitness expert.