Many of us like to keep healthy, eating the right foods and exercising to keep our body in shape. But have you ever thought about looking after your brain’s health?
The brain is the seat of our consciousness and memories. It’s a known fact that not a day or night passes without us using our noggin, whether we’re active and awake or lost in slumber. In fact, even if our brain weighs only around 1.4kg, which is roughly just about 2% of an average person’s weight, it uses up to 20% of our resting metabolic rate (RMR). If a person has an RMR of 1,300 calories per day, 260 calories out of that total is used, literally, as brain food.
As our bodies grow older, so does our brain. Over time, we may find that our memory may not be as sharp, and our reflexes may be slower than before.
Here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy brain.
Food for thought
The brain benefits from many of the nutrients and vitamins that we get from the food and supplements we consume on a daily basis. There are foods that have been found to be able to improve cognitive skills; some have been found to help reduce stress levels as well. Whole grains, eggs, nuts, and brown rice are good sources of vitamin E. This vitamin can help prevent the decline of cognitive abilities among elderly people.
Some studies have also proven that blueberries are one type of food that can be very beneficial to our brain’s health. According to Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, researchers involved in some animal studies found that blueberries can protect the brain from oxidative stress, and can reduce the effects of age-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Various other studies have likewise proven that diets rich in blueberries improved the learning abilities and motor skills of aging rats.
Avocados are also great in promoting a healthy brain. According to Pratt, the monounsaturated fat that is found in avocados can contribute to healthy blood flow which, in turn, makes for a healthy brain. Additionally, avocados are beneficial in reducing blood pressure.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, halibut, tuna, and some other seafood also play a crucial role in brain function. Moreover, these fatty acids contain anti-inflammatory substances that help people with allergies.
Zinc, which is found in pumpkin seeds and many other seeds, can help improve memory and cognitive skills. These seeds are also known to have magnesium which can help reduce stress levels.
Pasta, brown wholegrain cereals, and other foods that have a low glycaemic index release glucose into your blood at a slower rate. This helps you remain alert for a longer time.
A healthy body equals a healthy brain
Taking care of your body better brings many benefits, and it’s a pretty well-known fact that regular exercise can help keep us healthier for a longer time. Even better, studies have shown that exercising not only benefits our body muscles but our brain muscles as well.
One recent study found that the loss in brain tissue density was lower in people who were more aerobically fit. Exercising increases blood flow to the hippocampus, a part of our brain that plays a role in forming new memories.
Other studies have also shown that exercise can help a person cope with stressful situations, increases one’s learning abilities, and allows us to make clear decisions when needed.
Research done over the past 20 years has shown that certain parts of the brain can form new synapses and neurons. In practice, this means that the brain can rewire itself whenever we learn something new or engage our minds in activities that stimulate our brain.
Activities such as writing and reading books may possibly help in preserving memory regardless of age. Researchers have also found that being engrossed in reading a novel can improve brain function. Reading fiction can help flex your imagination, not unlike the way in which athletes do their visualisation exercises.
Certain kinds of games have also been found to be beneficial to our brains. Researchers from Tel Aviv University found that problem-solving puzzles could aid in delaying or preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in a number of people.
Additionally, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have found other benefits to playing certain kinds of video games. These researchers created a specialised video game that helped older people boost certain mental skills, including multitasking.
In the same way as resting after exercising your body, your brain also needs to relax. After all, you use it almost every second of your life.
Chronic stress can trigger long-term changes in brain function and structure, according to neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley. These findings are in agreement with how young people who are exposed to chronic stress during their early life are more prone to developing mental problems.
Reducing stress levels is known to be helpful in maintaining good mental health. There are many things you can do to give your brain some time off.
Yoga and meditation are great for reducing cortisol, the stress hormone in the body. They have also been found to be help slow down the progression of age-related cognitive disorders.
Scientists also confirm that adequate sleep is required by the brain to consolidate learning and memory. Additionally, it has been found that there is a relationship between poor sleep quality and reduced gray matter in the frontal lobe of the brain. This is the part of our brain that helps control processes like executive function and working memory.