5 Ways to Maintain Brain Health as You Age
Your wellbeing is the greatest asset you will ever have, and your brain is a vital organ in supporting your health as you age. As research into the brain’s neuroplasticity has grown, so has the awareness of how our brain can change for better or worse, depending on how we look after it.
When we pay attention to our brain health, it ripples out to impact many aspects of both our physical and emotional wellbeing. Good brain health involves caring for what we eat, how we think, the exercise we do and our social interaction.
Here are five key ways to look after your brain health and prevent cognitive decline as you age.
1. Use your brain
Research is increasingly showing that the brain has neuroplasticity which means it can change – to our detriment or to our benefit, and we get to choose. Many years ago, a study was done on the brains of taxi drivers in London, who have to memorise thousands of tiny streets and basically know how to get around based on an address and not a GPS.
The research found that these taxi drivers had bigger brains, specifically a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for spacial awareness and interestingly, also the part of the brain that reduces in size with dementia.
The old saying “use it or lose it” applies to brain health, challenge yourself and learn something new. Brain neuroplasticity has shown that when the brain learns new things, it creates new pathways and strengthens existing ones. Learning languages, a musical instrument or anything that requires focus and repeated effort will help improve brain health.
2. Exercise for a healthier heart and brain
Research has always shown us that regular exercise, even a simple walk in the park for 20 minutes a day, will help your heart stay healthy which supports your brain health. Exercise stimulates blood flow to the heart and brain, allowing better release of toxins out of the body, stimulating new cell growth and the connection between cells.
Also, exercise reduces the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol which are linked to dementia and cognitive decline.
And all that you need to do is a walk in the park for 20 minutes a day!
3. Eat nutritious food
The food we eat not only affects our gut, it also affects how well our brain works. Brain health is boosted with the right food. Your thinking becomes clearer, your memory improves, and your general cognitive function is better.
Oils such as Omega 3’s and Vitamin B’s, Vitamin K and Vitamin E are all important for making sure that our brain cells communicate with each other and antioxidants clean out free radicals which damage our cells. Foods that have been associated with better brain health include:
- Oily Fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout are high in Omega 3’s
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale which provide Vitamin K and folate
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and bok choy
- Blueberries which are rich in antioxidants and therefore eliminate harmful free radicals
- Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans are higher in Omega 3’s and Vitamin E
- Eggs which are a rich source of Vitamin B’s and Choline which is a neurotransmitter that improves memory.
4. Stay socially connected and prevent depression
We are social creatures and enjoy the company of people who we can share experiences with. When we are socially connected we stimulate our brains, laugh more and our sense of wellbeing improves releasing feel-good hormones that in turn boost our brain function.
Basically, the happier we are, the healthier our brain.
Becoming socially isolated which can potentially happen for people as they age with friends and relatives passing away, can lead to depression or make depression symptoms worse. Interestingly depression has been linked to dementia in later life. It can also become worse as we age if it is not treated.
If you are experiencing depression, then becoming more socially connected to things, people and places you enjoy is really important. It is never too late to make new friends and learn new hobbies. St Louis’ home care coordinators can introduce you to a variety of social activities that you may enjoy, either in small groups or one on one if you would prefer.
Knowing that our brain has neuroplasticity, we can change our brain for the better and get on top of issues such as depression and anxiety which are detrimental to our long-term brain health.
5. Your Brain Health Matters
Your Brain Matters is an organisation established in Australia to help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. On their website you will find a 21-day challenge for boosting your brain health. The 21 Day Challenge asks you to pledge a commitment to your brain health and spend the next 21 days working toward this.
A final word – watch your thoughts because we are what we think!
Good brain health is supported by good thoughts about ourselves and our surrounding world. The words we speak and think have an impact on our wellbeing and in turn, our brain health. The more we wire our brain for constructive thinking, the healthier our brain becomes.
The brain is a problem-solving instrument, always looking for something to solve, even if it means it has to find a problem where one does not exist in order to fix it!
Be aware that in some ways we are wired to think negatively, so that we can find a “solution”. It’s better to channel this creative problem-solving need into learning something new so that your brain feels like it has done its job for the day.
The old saying “an idle mind is the devil’s playground” has its place – negative or bored minds wreak all sorts of havoc!
At St Louis, we support healthy ageing and lifestyle through our many social programs and the health and wellbeing advice that we build into our home care plans.
Call St Louis Home Care in Adelaide on (08) 8332 0950 or St Louis Home Care Victor Harbor on (08) 8552 1481 to discuss any of your home care needs.