Haims: Ways to keep your brain healthy
Selectively or not, we all forget things. Sometimes, our memory is challenged because we have so much going on. Other times, our memory may falter because of the natural process of aging.
While it was once believed that the brain was fully developed by our mid-20s, we now know that neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to form new neural connection) exists, and frequently used neurons develop stronger connections while those that are infrequently used eventually die.
We can promote better brain health and memory.
While we live in an era where there is a pill for almost everything, there is no pill that definitively cures or betters one’s memory. Until the illusive memory cure arrives, the answer to maintaining and promoting better memory may be physical exercise, quality sleep, reading, diet, maintaining proper blood pressure and cholesterol, and participating in social and cultural activities. Bottom line: keep learning and be social.
Our memory naturally wanes as we advance in age. There are many contributing factors for memory loss, some are preventable and others are not. Research has found that one of the factors we have little influence on is brain shrinkage. While the brain will naturally lose mass with age, studies show that by keeping the brain physically and mentally active lends to a slowdown of the degenerative process. This is known as brain maintenance and the support of neuroplasticity.
Reduced blood flow caused by narrowing of the arteries and a decrease in the growth of new capillaries are also major contributing factors to cognitive decline. Two parts of the brain that are particularly affected are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are important for learning, memory, planning, and other complex mental activities. Healthy blood flow can be easily promoted by not smoking, exercising, eating more leafy greens and omega-3 fatty acids.
Cardiovascular disease, chronic stress, and high cholesterol all lend themselves to reducing blood and oxygen flow within the brain. This is why many physicians and researchers support that exercise, a healthy diet, and mentally challenging activities are beneficial in maintaining a healthy brain.
The following five tips have proven to improve brain function and memory and should be incorporated into our daily lives now — not just in our 50s and beyond.
- Moderate exercise: Whatever form of exercise you choose, do it for at least ½ hour a day 5-days a week.
- Healthy meals: While people have opinions and personal preferences, few would dispute that the DASH, MIND, and Mediterranean diets are extremely beneficial and easier to incorporate into one’s lifestyle than more restrictive diets.
- Pay attention to blood pressure and cholesterol: If diet and exercise don’t get you within a healthy range, look for (quality) supplements and speak to your doctor about prescription medications. Neglecting these concerns will rob you of more than your memory — they will rob you of life.
- Spend time being social: Whether in small numbers or large social groups, a social network has mental and physical benefits.
- Read and be excited to learn new things: Put simply, the brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it.
At some point over the next few days when you’re bored or just need a distraction, do an internet search for “brain health.” I assure you, regardless of the source, you’ll find a unified message: activities that promote problem solving, social interaction, and eating well will be a common thread.
Good brain health is something that needs to be thought about as a lifetime commitment. Stimulating the neurochemistry of the brain helps it stay healthy. The brain never stops changing in response to learning. Life, our world, and the universe is mysterious — be intrigued and curious.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.