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BRAIN HEALTH

OUTSMART THEM ALL

It seems the experts were wrong - at least about this. It has always been believed that our brains shrink as we age - beginning at age thirty actually - and that this loss of plasticity is irreversible. Now we know this simply is not true. The brain’s ability to change its structures and functions to meet changing circumstances, learn new things and heal from injury is available at any age. The shrinking part is true but here are seven ways to optimize your brainpower and compensate for this natural loss.

1. Get Social

Seniors socializing

Not only does a good connection with people make life more fun and interesting, it also counters brain loss. Studies have shown that if you are more socially active, you will have less mental decline resulting in a lower risk for dementia. You do not need 1000 "friends" on Facebook to have a good social connection with people. All you need is just one enriching and sustaining relationship. This can be with a friend, a spouse or a family member.

2. Work That Brain

Chess

A study from Rush Medical School in 2012 found that it is the lack of mental engagement that contributes to brain loss. Frequent mental stimulation leads to better mental functioning. And even better, you do not need to do any fancy activities to stimulate your brain. Any activities that make you think, analyze, or remember will do. The mentally stimulating activities in this study included reading the newspaper, writing letters, and playing games such as chess and checkers. As another bonus, keeping your brain engaged also makes you more open, flexible, and creative.

3. Sharp Brains Need Great Food

Fresh Foods

Your brain makes up only 2% of your body weight but uses up 20% of the energy and nutrients from your food. In order for your brain to repair damage and make new cells to compensate for what may be lost, you need to provide it with the best building material from your food. This means eating good protein from fish, nuts, legumes, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats. Enjoy plenty of vegetables and fruits. And use whole grains to give your brain clean fuel to run smoothly. Also, drink lots of water as it is very easy to dehydrate your brain.

4. Get The Blood Pumping

Exercise

Physical activities protect you in many different ways from brain loss by improving memory and learning. Exercise helps to optimize the connections between your brain cells. It also provides stimulating power for the production of natural factors to make more brain cells. Exercise improves the quality of other support systems in your body that your brain depends on in order to best function and regenerate itself. One of these systems is your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart and blood vessels. Knowing this helps us make a very easy connection - what is good for your heart is good for your brain. Aim for 20-30 minutes of physical activities a day. Combining cardio exercise, strength training, and flexibility moves provides the best overall workout.

5. Chill Out

Chilling out

Chronic stress can hasten brain loss in areas of the brain involving memory, learning, and executive functions. Meanwhile, the same chronic stress enlarges an area of the brain that makes you more anxious. Even though you are not always able to change many outside situations, you can manage them for the better. You can also change the way you look at stress in ways that work better for you and your brain. For instance, you often can get a different perspective by talking to someone. Or, taking a break to do things that give you pleasure. Exercise can also be a great stress reliever. Try meditation for stress relief. Recent studies suggest that meditation promotes the growth of the brain regions related to attention and executive functions. Meditation can be performed in different ways and you may be very surprised to learn that certain types of meditation are actually easy.

6. If You Are Sad

Smiley

The effect of depression on the brain is similar to that of chronic stress, but is more severe. There are two kinds of depression. The difference between them is whether or not they allow us to carry out our everyday life and interactions. It is perfectly normal to feel down and depressed for short periods after some setbacks. In this case, we can manage the stressors as mentioned earlier. Sometimes the sense of doom and gloom from stressors, or for no apparent reason at all, may last for more than a few weeks. This is major depression. For this type of chronic depression, you need to see a professional. Luckily, there are effective treatments for depression. These may include counseling like cognitive therapy and certain medications. Sometimes you are not even aware that you are depressed. So it is always a good idea to check in with yourself. A good question to ask yourself weekly if not every day, is ‘how am I feeling today?”

7. Balance Your Immune System


A well-balanced immune system allows your body to direct more energy into healing and building other organs including your brain. When the body is not busy fighting viruses and bacteria it is able to put that energy into repair.