3 Things You Can Do NOW for a Healthy Brain

Fresh off of a 5k run, enjoying nature at its finest in Lakes Park, Florida.  Photo courtesy of Charly Caldwell II

As life expectancies continue to rise, quality of life in our later years is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, keeping our minds as well as our bodies healthy is a priority.

Here are 3 strategies you can start today to keep your brain sharp:

1) Exercise your brain.

Like the body, the brain benefits from being used and challenged — from being ‘kept in shape’.

Challenging the brain with new activities can create new pathways within the brain that can act as alternate routes if some neurons (nerve cells) are damaged.

You could try:

  • playing games that involve planning and memory such as chess and bridge,
  • trying activities that test your vocabulary such as crosswords and Scrabble,
  • learning a new skill — perhaps a language or a musical instrument, and
  • doing sums in your head rather than automatically reaching for a calculator.

2) Keep physically active.

Research has shown that physical activity can protect against loss of mental function.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and may promote neuron growth. You don’t have to run a marathon to be active, you simply need to increase the level of physical activity in your daily life.

Examples include:

  • taking the stairs rather than the elevator,
  • parking your car further away than you would normally and walking the extra distance,
  • if you have a dog, take it for longer and more regular walks (your dog will thank you too 😉),
  • ride a stationary exercise bike while watching TV, and
  • take up a hobby that keeps you physically active, such as gardening!

If you are already doing more vigorous activities like cycling, make sure you wear a helmet, as head injuries are an important risk factor for memory problems.

3) Eat a healthy diet.

Like your body, your brain thrives on a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet can go a long way towards preventing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure that may impair your mental function.

Try to keep your weight under control, bearing in mind that energy requirements generally fall after the age of 70, and aim to include the following nutrients in your diet:

Protein - 

This is essential for supplying your brain with amino acids (protein building blocks). Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean meats, legumes and nuts.

The right type of fats - 

This means unsaturated fats — from oily fish, nuts, and oils such as sunflower oil and olive oil — rather than saturated fats — those in meats, dairy and products such as biscuits, cakes and pies.

Unsaturated fats are an important constituent of neuron membranes.

Carbohydrates -

Carbohydrates supply glucose, a form of sugar and the fuel that neurons need to function.

The brain can only store a finite amount of glucose; therefore, it must receive a steady supply from the bloodstream. This is one of the reasons we’ve always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

What you eat for breakfast fuels your brain for the day (or doesn’t).

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