As a child, I was quite clumsy and would bang my head on things a lot. Not a great tactic to employ to keep my brain healthy I guess!! Each time I banged my head, my mother would say that’s another few hundred brain cells you have lost – once they are gone, they are gone!!
Back in my day that was what we were led to believe. I was told that you’re born with all the brain cells you’ll ever get and it’s all downhill from there.
But perhaps it’s time for a rethink. Mounting research suggests you can improve the health of your brain no matter what your age, making it stronger now and protecting it for the long term.
That’s good news for me as I still bang my head on things!!
In fact, while many people consider Alzheimer’s disease a natural part of getting older, scientists say the opposite.
It seems that Alzheimer’s as well as other forms of cognitive decline may be slowed down or perhaps even prevented.
The best time to start making your brain healthy?
As we age, like the rest of our body, if left unchecked our brain can slow down leading to cognitive impairment-and prevents the lightning-fast thinking you’re used to-start as early as your 30s or 40s.
Yet whether you’re younger or older than that, making good choices in what you do, eat, and think can make a big difference in how your grey matter works later on.
And, there’s not an age that’s too early or too late to think about better brain health.
Your brain’s four favourite life preservers include some that probably look familiar to you already…
- Be Active
- Eat good nutritious food
- Get plenty of Zzz’s
- Train your brain
Add some quality thinking time to that list, and your ideal plan to make your brain healthy in 2019 and beyond looks like this:
Brain Booster Tip #1: move
Getting your body into action helps clear your brain of a protein fragment called amyloid, which is believed to accumulate in and “gunk up” the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
And it appears that there are no drugs available that can lower amyloid so the only thing we know that can do it is exercise.
So, get moving!
As a fitness professional, it would be remiss of me to not recommend going to a gym or personal training studio.
But there are plenty of other things you can do such as walk; play football in the park with your kids; walk the dog; go to dance classes.
The list is endless.
Aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of purposeful activity most days of the week (that’s the stuff that gets your heart rate up a bit) plus two short sessions (30-45 minutes) of resistance training-squats, lunges, and the like-per week.
Make it happen: pull out your diary and block “Activity Time” blocks for the next week
Brain Booster Tip#2: challenge your mind
One of the most solidly researched ways to lower your risk of dementia is to challenge your brain so it becomes more flexible.
That doesn’t mean solving crossword puzzles; it means doing new things to continually work different parts of your brain in order to build connections between them.
Why that’s important…
Imagine two roadway systems, one of which dead-ends when it hits a roadblock while the other has all sorts of detours for drivers to fall back on.
When you’re scrambling to remember a name, for instance, and your mind hits a “roadblock” of non-functioning nerve cells, you’ll come up with nothing.
But if there are available detours, your brain will try them until it finds the name you’re looking for.
Build those “detours” by thinking about things in new or deeper ways.
Talking about the key characters of a book with your book club and teaching yourself to cook something different count because they require reasoning and attention.
Variety, feeling engaged, and being challenged all help build a healthier mind.
Make it happen: Write a stop-doing list-and take time to pause
It’s hard to fire up your brain with new things when you’re just trying to get through the same daily rush-rush routine. Make it a priority to try out different activities.
And ironically, one of the best ways to think more deeply is to spend some time not thinking at all.
Taking a moment to focus on your breathing or blocking 10 minutes for meditation can quiet some of the mental noise that’s getting in the way of deep thinking.
Every so often, step away from what you’re doing (and put your phone aside as well!) so you can clear your head.
And there are plenty of good apps available these days to help you with this. One I particularly like is Headspace – https://www.headspace.com
Brain Booster Tip #3: Get your Zzz’s
Cheat on sleep, and you rob your mind of its potential. Shut-eye is when your brain does its housekeeping- it’s almost like there’s a janitor inside who cleans up some of the toxic by-products that may be a precursor to amyloid proteins
Reframe sleep as a priority and a must-do, not as a weakness.
To help yourself snooze, pay attention to what experts call sleep hygiene-in other words, bias your bedroom toward your getting good sleep.
And stay off digital screens for at least a half hour to an hour before bed; the blue light they emit keeps you from producing melatonin, a sleepiness hormone that rises in your body at night.
Make it happen: Set an alarm to go to bed
Give sleep the priority it deserves by making room for it in your schedule.
To keep yourself from pushing it off for another 30 minutes, then for an hour, then until the few emails you have to answer are done, set an alarm to warn you that you have 30 to 60 minutes to check out of go-go-go mode before you need to get to bed.
Ideally, try to check off all next-day busy work before that alarm goes off. This prevents you from running around to lay out work clothes and gather important papers right before you lie down. Getting that flurry of activity out of the way earlier lets you wind down.
Brain Booster Tip#4: Eat smarter
While there’s no single food that can prevent or cure cognitive impairment, an overall healthy eating pattern can help. Try the MIND diet, a plan put together by a team led by Dr Martha Clare Morris.
It includes the foods known to enhance memory and brain health and limits the ones thought to hurt it.
She recommends eating more of these: antioxidant-rich berries, vegetables (especially leafy greens), fish (for its omega-3 fatty acids, which likely make it easier for the brain’s nerve cells to communicate with one another), and whole grains.
The foods to cut down on: those with saturated and trans fats, both of which are believed to damage your cardiovascular system and thus your brain health.
That means less red meat, butter, margarine, pastries and other sweets, and fried or fast foods.
In Morris’s research, she saw that older people who stuck to this style of eating over five years lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35 to 53 percent. The longer people stayed on the diet, the more their odds improved.
Make it happen: Sneak in some greens
Most people are pretty good at finding more ways to eat grains or tricks for fitting in their favourite fish, but leafy greens often aren’t on the menu.
You can make them effortless to eat by using these strategies:
- Use Swiss chard instead of basil in your favourite pesto-just steam or blanch the leaves and work them into the usual recipe, then toss it with pasta or spoon it over salmon.
- When having poached or fried eggs for breakfast, skip the toast and serve the eggs over sautéed spinach.
- Smother a healthy homemade veggie-topped pizza with rocket.
- Don’t like bitter greens? Sweeten them up: Roast grapes in olive oil and herbs, then toss handfuls of kale over the grapes and pop the whole thing back into the oven for a moment. Serve over pasta.
- Turn spinach into a healthy dip: Blend a cup of baby spinach with a 180g container of plain Greek yoghurt, some chopped spring onions, salt, and the juice of half a lime. Scoop it up with more veggies-a double dose to help keep your brain sharp.
There you have it. Four tips to help you keep your brain healthy.
Do you have any tips to add to this? If so, please let me know what strategies you follow to keep your brain healthy in the comments below.
If this post has inspired you and you are interested to learn how to make subtle, but impactful changes to your health and fitness, then perhaps a great starting point might be to download the HEALTHY GLOW 7-Day Nutrition and Exercise Planner