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The brain is the command center of our bodies, controlling aspects of our lives from decision-making and memory to emotions and physical functions. It’s the single most valuable organ in the human body.
Studies show a healthy brain is a key to enhancing your mental health and overall quality of life. Especially as we get older. With aging, some of our cognitive abilities naturally decline, such as memory and the ability to multitask. Others, though, improve, including the ability to learn new skills, like languages, and a stronger capacity to focus.
Adopting healthy habits helps to sharpen our cognitive abilities, boost memory retention, improve concentration, and potentially reduce or delay the risks of debilitation conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month—but understanding the importance of brain health, and building and boosting your cognitive well-being, are important year-round. And they’re also key no matter how old you are. Here are some smart habits for promoting brain health to adopt at any age.
Exercise increases your blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, which stimulates the growth of new neurons and improves cognitive function. It can boost your memory and critical thinking skills both directly and indirectly. Directly, by aiding the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and creating new brain cells. Indirectly, by contributing to improved sleep and moods, which reduces stress and anxiety.
You don’t need to become an elite athlete to see the health benefits of exercise on the brain. Just aim for about 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity each week. Activities like walking the dog, dancing, biking and gardening can count! Strength training with weights will help, too.
Want to expand your brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to grow new neural networks? Learn something new! The possibilities are endless—and you can find tons of learning tools online. Curious about a new language? An app like Duolingo can gamify your lessons. Interested in music? Tons of YouTube channels are out there to teach you piano or guitar. ‘
Online education platforms like edX and Coursera offer huge ranges of highly affordable courses you can take on topics from architecture to zoology. With a program like Grow with Google you can boost your resume too, studying topics from data analytics to digital marketing.
Nourishing your brain with a well-balanced diet is vital for optimal brain health. Eat lots of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds (pro tip: they go well in smoothies.)
On the flip side, tone down your intake of processed foods, sugary snacks and saturated fats, all of which can negatively impact the brain.
As a best practice for your brain health and overall well-being, keep your alcohol intake moderate.
Getting good sleep helps in so many ways. It’s a mood enhancer, for starters. But beyond that, adequate amounts of sleep are essential for consolidating your memories and facilitating brain regeneration. Literally, the better your sleep, the stronger your chances of storing away recollections of what you did that day.
Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Use earplugs or an eye mask if it helps. One key to quality sleep is establishing a consistent sleep schedule, one where your body develops the habit of knowing it’s time for night night. A soothing sleep environment is crucial, too. Treat yourself to some quality pillows and high thread count sheets.
And log off your devices at least an hour before bed too. Seriously. Ditch the cell phone at night. Just put that somewhere else. Read a book, meditate, practice relaxation techniques if you want. But scrolling before sleeping won’t do you much good.
Maintaining strong social connections positively impacts brain health too. Socializing can stimulate memories, strengthen neural networks, and expose you to new ideas.
Lack of social connections on the other hand can trigger negatives like reduced blood flow to the brain, which can weaken your immune system.
There are plenty of ways to engage in social activities. Throw a party! Start group discussions. Join a book club, or a pickup soccer game, Take your dog to the park and socialize.
Even just picking up the phone and having conversations with friends and family can stimulate the brain and protect against cognitive decline.
For you, and for the people you call, too.
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