Are you worried about your brain health or that your cognitive function will slip as you age? If so, you’re not alone. According to the American Heart Association, 3 out of 5 Americans will develop a brain disease in their lifetime. The one most people fear is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It’s the most common type of dementia, which is an umbrella term for health problems related to impaired brain function.
Some cognitive decline occurs with age, but lifestyle habits also play a role in keeping your brain healthy. There are steps you can take from a lifestyle standpoint to keep your brain functioning at an optimal level. Factors like oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance likely contribute to more rapid brain aging and diet and lifestyle plays a role in these factors. It’s clear that what you eat affects brain aging, but it’s more than that. If you want your brain to stay healthy, here are some other habits you should implement for brain health.
Exercise – A Science-Backed Brain Booster
Research shows exercise that raises your heart rate is beneficial for brain health. Exercise, including walking, stimulates the brain, improves memory and concentration, reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood, and can even improve sleep. Plus, you can do it any time of day and it requires no special equipment.
According to Tufts University, any exercise is better than none, but you’ll get the most brain-boosting benefits if you meet the recommended guidelines, at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week.
How does exercise work its magic? It increases blood flow to your brain, and there’s evidence it helps protect neurons, or nerve cells, from injury, and even helps them form new connections in areas of the brain that support memory and cognitive function. A study found that cognitive decline was twice as common in people who were sedentary compared to those who stayed physically active. Movement is a salve for your brain, so take advantage of it!
Challenge Your Brain
One of the best ways to build up your brain is to challenge it. When you learn a new language, try out a new recipe, or read a book on a novel topic, your brain must work harder. Asking your brain to perform cognitive challenges strengthens connections between nerve pathways and helps preserve brain health. Just like your muscles, if you don’t use them, you lose them. Keep challenging your brain! Just as you work your muscles, give your brain mental workouts too.
How can you take advantage of this? Try playing board games with friends and family members or doing puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku. You can also download apps that offer games and quizzes that challenge your brain. Dementia is also less common in those who speak more than one language. Why not learn a new one? Extra points if you tackle a tough language like Mandarin. Don’t let your brain get lazy!
Socialize to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Socializing is good for your brain, and it can help reduce stress and anxiety. Research shows that long-living cultures and those who enjoy good brain health later in life have strong social structures and bonds with other people. Living in isolation is less stimulating for your brain and can lead to mental health issues like depression, a condition associated with a higher risk of dementia.
Being around other people, whether they’re friends, family members, or strangers, can help keep your brain healthy. It’s the type of social interaction that matters most — the more varied the activity, the better. So, make new friends or reconnect with old ones. Also, get involved in civic organizations, community groups, or volunteer for a good cause. Don’t be isolated.
Learn to Manage Stress and Anxiety
Chronic stress is harmful to your brain and can lead to mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Make sure you have strategies for managing stress. Exercise is beneficial for stress management, and so is meditation. One study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation boosted the thickness of a portion of the brain called the hippocampus, a portion involved in memory and cognitive function. For optimal mental health, ensure you’re getting enough high-quality sleep too. Chronically poor sleep harms brain health, not just short-term, but longer-term too.
Watch Your Head and Hearing
Did you know that a head injury increases the risk of developing dementia? Hearing loss is also linked with a higher risk of cognitive decline. Do what you can to prevent head injury by wearing a helmet when you bike. Also, have a professional check your hearing to make sure you’re not having hearing loss that you’re unaware of. It can sneak up on you. Once you lose some hearing, the portion of the brain that processes auditory stimuli atrophies or becomes smaller. Scientists believe this is detrimental to brain health. Also, it’s harder to socialize when you have poor hearing.
Brain health is a big deal. It’s the foundation of everything humans do, from thinking to remembering to learning new things. Research shows that staying mentally active throughout life can help you get more out of life. As you can see, there are many simple things you can do to improve your brain health. The best part is that these habits will not only help your brain but also keep your heart healthy! Heart and brain health are closely intertwined. What’s beneficial for one, is of benefit for the other. Keep them both healthy!
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