Published on: August 14, 2016
by Jenny Brockis for Huffington Post:
If there is one thing that worries us more than ageing or cancer, it’s the thought of losing our mind to Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia. Keeping your brain in shape in the best investment you can ever make to stay sharp, focused and happy at any age, and it all starts with lifestyle.
Stay fresh and add colour to your plate.
While there are a number of ‘superfoods’ available, what counts is eating a wide variety of different foods to boost your memory, thinking and mood. Choose fresh, preferably locally sourced, non- processed food and you’re on the way to a healthier brain. Occasional treats are fine… it’s what you do the rest of the time that matters. Look to include something fresh and colourful to your plate at every meal, and remember to drink plenty of water to keep your brain cells hydrated.
If the thought of exercise brings you out in a cold sweat, just keep moving. Everything counts, from walking up the stairs to doing the gardening. While 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days is ideal, it’s about staying active and keeping off your bottom that is important. Moving not only stimulates better thinking and attention, it also helps regulate your sleep pattern, defuses stress and leads to more of your “feel good” brain chemicals including endorphin, serotonin and dopamine being released. It even assists in reducing brain shrinkage. Feeling great and staying sharp starts with getting up and moving.
For better brain health and function, sleep is non-negotiable. Getting enough sleep means waking refreshed and ready to deal with whatever the day may bring. Sleep deprivation not only leads to more mistakes and crankiness, it’s also linked to a higher risk of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and cognitive decline and contributes to weight gain.
Most people need around 7-8 hours. The best way to pay off a sleep debt is to go to bed 20 minutes earlier rather than sleeping in, turn off all the technology 60 minutes before bedtime and undertake a relaxing pre-bedtime routine.
Get down to the brain gym.
Your brain’s natural plasticity means you are a life long learner. While the level of plasticity dwindles a little with age, learning new skills builds greater “cognitive reserve,” helping your brain work better for longer. Choose something you don’t necessarily expect to be good at, that brings out your creative side with plenty of variety and a continuing stretch. Why not learn a new language, a musical instrument, take up photography or join an art class and reveal those hidden talents you never knew you had.
Make stress your friend.
Not all stress is bad. A little bit of stress boosts performance. Too much stress leads to elevated levels of stress hormones that are neurotoxic, increasing your risk of mental distress and cognitive decline. Practising some form of daily relaxation (yoga, meditation or walking) builds your stress resistance to cope better with life’s challenges.
Those who live the longest commonly share a strong sense of family and community. That’s why being part of a social network that meets regularly is so good. Whether it’s a book club, singing group, or being part of a Men’s shed, it’s about interacting with others that keeps brains interested and happy.
Smiling makes us feel happier, enhances our wellbeing and raises our level of confidence and competence to undertake a task. Your brain can’t tell the difference between the real thing or a fake, so if you’re in a bit of a funk, putting a smile on your face will lift your mood and that of those around you.
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