The brain is the most complex organ, and it’s also one of the most important. That’s why keeping it healthy is critical—especially as you get older. Early in adulthood our brains reach maturity and begin a slow decline. The shrinking of neurons (brain cells) eventually leads to a loss of memory sharpness and slowing down of cognitive speed. However, there is good news. No matter our age, we can make lifestyle and behavior choices to improve brain health. The following four actions promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, by encouraging neuron creation and supporting and building connections between neurons. These are a few ways to show your brain some love.
Challenging your mind positively boosts brain plasticity. Hobbies, crossword puzzles, or artistic diversions promote communication between your neurons. Learning a new instrument or taking a class builds new connections in the brain. Keep in mind that neuroplasticity works both ways. Connections that go unused are eventually torn down. This ‘use it or lose it’ nature of the brain makes staying mentally engaged important.
Take Care of Your Heart
Steps we take to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease increase brain health and aid in retaining mental sharpness. Regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet increase blood flow to your brain, delivering nutrients crucial to a healthy neurochemical environment. Avoiding unhealthy, processed or refined foods is also important as these promote inflammation and brain damaging free radicals.
Smoking has neurological consequences beyond the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Nicotine speeds up cortical thinning which leads to problems with memory and thinking. Putting out that cigarette butt for good can return your levels nearly to that of a non-smoker.
Manage Your Stress
Chronic stress can have a long-lasting negative impact on your brain. Some common tools for fighting stress have added brain health benefits. Meditation has been found to positively change the structure of the brain increasing learning, cognition, and memory. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night can help with stress and supports memory and cognitive functions of the brain.
Though not fully understood why, those who stay socially involved have a lower risk of mental decline. It could be that social engagement adds diversity to types of mental function allowing one area to compensate for declines in other functions. Or, it may be that social people all share other lifestyle factors that boost brain health. Whatever the reason, it is important to take part in your local community. Volunteer at a charity or school, join a choir or regularly meet with a group of friends. If you prefer animals, volunteering at a local shelter or zoo can provide the same social benefits.