Tag Archives: brain health

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

Advertisements

10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

notepad-1066735-mDo you lose track of your car keys? Walk into a room and have no idea why you’re there? Can’t remember the name of your child’s teacher?

I recently read that our modern lifestyle plays a significant role in contributing to our memory and brain function. Our exposure to toxins, chemicals, an unhealthy diet, poor sleep habits and stress can actually hinder our ability to remember.

A healthy lifestyle can support your brain health and even help your brain grow new neurons. This process is called neurogenesis.

By simply making healthier choices, here are 10 ways you can improve your memory:

Stay hydrated
Your brain is 75% water so even mild dehydration means that your brain tissues are shrinking, and you may experience mild loss of cognitive function. You may have heard, “Drink when you’re thirsty.” However, when you feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated. You should shoot for 8 glasses of water a day. Of course, if you exercise or work outside in hot weather, you should drink even more. Learn more about the benefits of drinking water.

Eat real food
I often cook from a box, package or can. Prepackaged foods almost always contain unhealthy ingredients that aren’t good for your brain. The best diet consists of real food. Unprocessed food helps you avoid those chemicals and toxins that can hinder your memory function. Artificial sweeteners and MSG are both known to adversely affect your brain health. Here are some tips for swapping junk food for healthy food.

Cut back on sugar
Brain cells use twice as much energy as other cells, and they get most of this energy from glucose. Your brain cells can’t store energy, so they need a steady supply of glucose. That means you should eat more sugar, right? No, the key part of the equation is a steady supply. Real sugar, including high fructose corn syrup and maple syrup, is hard on your brain and memory. They send your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride of spikes and dips. Too much refined sugar leads to poor memory formation, learning disorders and depression. It also impacts your attention span and mood. Here are more reasons to limit sugar.

Keep the fat
Many diets want you to cut out the fat. However, some fats are good for you. Not to mention, your brain is made mostly of fat. It needs healthy fats, such as the type you get from nuts, avocados, oily fish and olive oil. About 25% of your body’s cholesterol is found in the brain. Low fat diets have had a disastrous affect on our brains. We need good fats for overall health, as well as memory function.

Get more sleep
Sleep has so many health benefits. Getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep shouldn’t be considered sleeping in. You should strive to sleep 8 hours every night for your overall health and mental well-being. During sleep, your brain repairs itself, gets rid of toxins and consolidates memories. Lack of good sleep will impair your memory, creativity, judgment and attention span. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep.

Stop multitasking
We’ve written before that there is no such thing as multitasking. You are simply switching from one task to another. Trying to multitask may actually slow you down, make you more prone to errors and make you more forgetful. You need about 8 seconds to actually commit a piece of information to memory. So, if you’re talking on the phone while bringing in the groceries, you are more likely to forget where you laid down your car keys.

Stay active
Our bodies are meant to move, yet you may spend 10-12 hours a day sitting. All this sitting can lead to memory lapses, brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. Exercise also moves more oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Getting more physical activity can help keep your memory sharp. Here are more benefits of regular exercise.

Reduce stress
Prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decisions, insomnia and memory loss. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to a surplus of free radicals. These free radicals can cause your brain to shrink by punching holes in the brain cell walls and causing them to rupture and die. The next time you’re getting stressed out, take a deep breath and remember that you’re killing brain cells. Here are some more ways to reduce stress.

Check your medicine cabinet
A number of medications can affect memory, including antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids. Don’t stop taking any prescription medicines without talking to your doctor, but if you’re concerned about your memory function it may be something to bring up at your next visit.

Keep learning
People who are cognitively active will have better memory as they age. How do you keep your brain going strong? Stay engaged in the world. Play games that make you think. Do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Find ways to challenge your memory. For instance, if you meet someone new, make up a way to remember his or her name. Here are 16 Ways to Exercise Your Brain.

Your lifestyle and habits impact every part of your life, including your memory and brain function. A healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your memory, mood and well-being. It’s just another reason to live a balanced life!

16 Ways to Exercise Your Brain

shiny-brain-1254880-mAs I stood in front of the refrigerator, wondering why I had walked into the kitchen, it made me think about my brain. I blame my kids for making me dumber. Or maybe it’s just because I’m approaching my mid-40s. I really feel like I’ve lost some of my brain function.

Can we exercise our brains? Why yes, we can!

Here are 16 ways you can work out your brain and keep it strong:

Do daily puzzles
Simple puzzles like crosswords, Sudoku, word search and anagrams can challenge your brain. Logic puzzles help your brain’s deductive reasoning and teach you to organize your thinking. Lateral thinking puzzles – which challenge your preconceptions – train your brain to think outside the box. You can even find free puzzles to work online.

Use your peripheral vision
When you’re riding in a car or walking down the street, try to view things at the edge of your vision without turning your head. Actively challenging your peripheral vision helps improve your brain performance and allows you to better navigate your world safely.

Put down the calculator
Math is the basis of all things logical and technological. Doing math has been shown to increase your fluid intelligence, or your ability to think logically and solve problems in novel situations. The next time you need to make some calculations, try to work them out in your head. Mental math trains your working memory and helps you better store information for immediate use.

Learn to play an instrument
Playing an instrument exercises many interrelated parts of your brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, memory and ability to concentrate.

Read anything and everything
Reading is great exercise for your brain. You can read newspapers, magazines, books and blogs. Just keep in mind that the more challenging the text, the better the workout for your brain.

Take a class
You can take a class in just about anything online. Or, sign up for a class at a community college, join a dance class or learn to make pottery. Attending a class in person also gives you a chance to talk with people, and having interesting conversations can help workout your brain.

Pick up a ball
Play catch with friends or your kids. Or practice throwing a ball up in the air and catching it. Using your brain’s visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses can have a positive impact on your brain.

Turn off the TV
Watching TV takes very little brain power. TV tells you what to think and how to think it. Of course, that’s why we like to veg out in front of it. If you want to give your brain some activity, then turn off the TV. Or if you can’t live without TV, watch educational programs or movies with complex plot lines and highly developed characters. You can also turn the TV volume down to a conversational level so that you have to concentrate to hear it.

Reminisce about the past
Take out the photo albums or play the old home movies. Work at recalling the actual events and what else was going on in your life at that time. Recall the dates, names of people and other details that will help reinforce your long-term memory.

Build something
When I was a kid, we played with erector sets, Lincoln Logs and Legos. Now, there are even more opportunities to build or assemble something in order to work out your brain. Putting something together without a manual or instructions is even better because it involves spatial reasoning.

Shut off the GPS
Instead of letting the GPS tell you where to go, sharpen your navigation skills. You can even get lost on purpose – just remember to bring a map! Finding routes and navigating on your own helps the brain create new neural pathways that are needed for storing complex spatial relationships.

Play games
Play chess, checkers or a card game. These are all tactical games that help exercise your brain. It’s even better to play with other people so that you can socialize and have stimulating conversations.

Eat a healthy diet
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet also plays a role in your brain health. By including foods rich in both protein and omega 3 fatty acids, you can keep your brain physically fed.

Exercise
Physical activity is important for a healthy heart but also benefits the brain. Walking and cardio exercise are great for brain health.

Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is crucial to your overall health and plays an important role in keeping your brain healthy. While you’re sleeping, your body cleans toxins out of your brain and makes repairs. To protect and rejuvenate your brain, make sure you get a full night’s sleep as often as possible.

Vary your routine
Drive a different route to work. Change your lunch routine by taking a walk, window shopping or running some errands. If your day becomes too monotonous, your brain may feel neglected.

When you stop learning and challenging your brain, it stops growing. Exercise your brain as often as possible to keep it strong!

7 tips to keep your mind sharp

Keep your brain sharpJust this morning, I jogged down the stairs to my basement on a mission. Then, I stood at the bottom of the landing wondering why the heck I had come downstairs.

Sound familiar? We all have momentary brain lapses from time to time. We have so many things going through our minds at once, it’s easy to become distracted.

You have probably heard these referred to as “senior moments” – even though we can have memory lapses at any age. In fact, memory loss is not typically caused by age alone. Cognitive decline is more likely to be due to organic disorders, brain injury or neurological illness.

As we discuss often in the this blog, living a balanced life can benefit your overall health and well-being in so many ways. Studies have shown that we can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. For instance, staying physically active, getting plenty of rest, being social, eating a balanced diet, and giving up bad habits, such as smoking and limiting alcohol to one drink a day, can all help improve your brain health.

In addition, you can actively exercise your brain muscles. Here are some strategies you can use to help protect and sharpen your mind:

Keep learning
Just as physical activity keeps your body in shape, mental activity can shape up your mind. And, exercising your brain doesn’t really require any special equipment. Simply read a book or the newspaper. Sign up for an online newsletter that interests you. Take a cooking class or take classes toward a degree. Sign up for martial arts or make pottery. Learn a new language. All of these activities help stimulate your mind and keep your brain flexible.

Play games
Games help you concentrate and use strategic planning. This mental stimulation increases your mental clarity. Play a round of golf or hit the tennis court. Play pool with some friends. Do a crossword, Sudoku puzzle or other brain teaser. Play chess, checkers or cards – even solitaire on the computer or a tablet. Or, grab the video controller from your kids or grandkids and play with them. Choose video games that involve strategy or problem solving. Believe it or not, games like tennis and bowling can give you a physical workout, too!

Be social
If you can play games with friends or family, that’s even better. Social interaction with friends can have many health benefits, including improving your mood and cutting down on stress. Both depression and stress can contribute to memory loss. So, go out to eat with a group of friends. Get together and play cards. Have a family game night. Socializing and staying connected is just another form of mental exercise.

Get moving
Speaking of exercise, get up and get moving! Physically active people tend to have better memory and cognition than those who are inactive. Exercising gets your blood flowing all over your body, including your brain. This increased blood flow may help keep your mind sharp. Weight training, toning exercises and improving balance can also help you stay fit and strengthen your brain. Here are some tips to help you get motivated to exercise.

Relieve stress
Exercise helps relieve tension and assists you in coping with the stresses of the day. Chronic stress can wear on your body and mind. Stress causes your body to produce cortisol – which can lead to impaired memory. Find ways to relax and recharge your body and your mind. You’ll feel better, and it’s good for your brain!

Take care of your body
In addition to regular exercise, you should keep your body tuned up. That means getting a physical every year and following your doctor’s recommendations. If you have any chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression, you need to treat them to prevent any serious problems in the future. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory will probably be.

Eat healthy
A healthy diet may be good for your brain health, too. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of diet includes lots of fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans. Include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources like fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. And drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!

Find your purpose
Do something that you love. Do something you’re good at. Find that something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. Having a mission in life can help you stay mentally sharp. You may have a job that you love. You may like to volunteer in your community or help out at the local school. You may have a hobby that you truly enjoy. Whatever it is, have fun with it!

Exercise your brain every time you get a chance. Do something new. Try something different. Just remember that when you flex your brain muscles, you are improving your cognitive skills and keeping your mind sharp!