The human brain has needs for staying healthy. Here’s what they are, all written down for you, in case you forget.
If we think of our brain as another muscle in our body, it makes sense that we also need to exercise our brain. There are a variety of exercises that can help improve our brain health, and the great thing about these types of exercises is that many of them are fun.
But that doesn’t mean that our brain health solely depends on how we exercise it. The foods that we eat, how we sleep, and our exercise affect the entire body and overall health.
We all know sleep is essential to help us feel rested. But according to mayoclinichealthsystem.org, sleep is even more vital to our brain. Some researchers believe that sleep helps to remove irregular proteins in our brain, like cleaning the cobwebs from the corners of a house. These irregular proteins may play a role in various neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
If you have ever seen the movie Inside Out, you will appreciate that it is during sleep that our brain consolidates our memories. It is clearing out the old, making room for the new, and storing the ones that matter. The best way for this to happen is to get seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep every night. More importantly, you want to get as much deep sleep as possible before midnight as that is where the body excels at “cleaning house” in the brain and nourishes your body. That means you need to be asleep at least 1 hour before midnight :) And if you can’t get a good night’s sleep, you may want to try napping as it too has many benefits as you can discover in our napping post.
Puzzles can be anything you find puzzling. The important thing is to have fun and pick whatever gets your brain thinking. Whether you love trying the Sunday crossword puzzle, sudoku, or a game of chess, give your brain a distraction from the everyday exertions you face.
Just as different exercises target different parts of our body, think weights versus cardio, the same is true for different puzzles and our brain. One of my favorite ways to exercise and distract my brain is to play one of the many Nancy Drew computer games I own. By playing these I get to give reality a break and require me to put on my thinking cap.
According to health.harvard.edu, the foods that we eat also impact our brain power. Foods that are rich in components such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins help lower inflammation and inflammatory markers such as homocysteine and CRP. Knowing this, it becomes easy to look for foods that are rich within these critical categories.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is full of healthy unsaturated fats. Health.harvard.edu states that omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods help lower our levels of beta-amyloid, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Another important way to support your brain is to keep your blood sugar levels controlled. Elevated blood sugar can be toxic for the brain and can play a role in conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Monitoring your fasting glucose and insulin will give you critical information about how you not only respond to foods but how your pancreas responds to your blood sugar levels.
If you believe the adage an old dog can’t learn new tricks, don’t. This isn’t like school where you are being forced to learn something that you aren’t interested in. I’m talking to you, physics class. Try finding something that you have always wanted to learn or something that you didn’t know about when you were younger.
Healthline.com recognizes that learning a new skill can help strengthen the connections in our brain. Plus, for older adults, it may help improve our memory function. Also, recognize that there is no timeline for learning a new skill. Whether it takes a month or a year, remember, it’s the journey, not the destination our brain cares about.
American soldier Johan A. Logan said, “music is the medicine of the mind.” According to hopkinsmedicine.org, whether you play or listen, music helps keep our brain young. Simply by listening to music, we are providing our brain with a total workout.
The benefits of music are plenty, from lowering our anxiety, pain, and blood pressure to improving our mood, mental alertness, sleep, and memory. Our brain connects to music as the sound tickles our eardrums and then transmits an electrical wave through our auditory nerve to our brain stem.
But for our brain to make sense of music, it must work hard to understand music’s structure, both mathematical and architectural. This type of “workout” is helpful for the brain. And if for nothing else, music will help improve your mood, or get your hips moving and put a spring in your step.
We all know that physical exercise is good for our body, but it is also essential to our mind. Brainhq.com elaborates further explaining that high intensity exercise (where your heart rate increases) can aid in processing information and our memory functions.
When heart rate increases, we pump more blood to all parts of our body, including our brain. This means our brain is now getting more oxygen. Hormones are also released which aids our brain in growing new brain cells.
Our brain’s plasticity also becomes stimulated by exercise, allowing for new neuronal connections as well. A quick 20 minute burst of exercise will help increase BDNF levels. BDNF is a protein that helps with brain health and memory. Add in that exercise boosts our mood and acts as a natural antidepressant, and exercise is one heavy-hitter for our overall brain health.
While some may have visions of a Buddhist monk sitting on the highest peak of a mountain all to better understand the sound of a whisper, meditation is quite simple and effective. Meditation to your lifestyle can improve both concentration and memory (psychologytoday.com).
Those who have mediated long term may have larger amounts of gyrification. This is also known as forming the folding of the brain’s cortex, and can allow the brain to process information more quickly and more efficiently.
Quiet music may aid in increasing brain cell density. It can aid in memory, focus, concentration, our attention span, and even how we control our behavior. And you don’t have to be a monk to meditate. Simply sit in a quiet room and focus on your breath to begin your path to mediation and increased brain health. Want to learn more about a spiritual path? Our post on Yoga vs. Pilates will help you understand how yoga may help you learn more about meditation.
Taking the time to give your brain what it needs pays huge dividends.
My Toolbox Genomics empowers individuals in their healthcare journey by creating reports focused on genetic predispositions derived from published research. Test results and suggestions are intended to lead to consultation with one’s healthcare practitioner. MyTBG reports do not diagnose disease or medical conditions. Any lifestyle changes should result from consultation with qualified healthcare practitioners.