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Mental Health

Getting Smart About Brain Health

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You stride purposefully into a room only to stop and stare into space. Backtrack, re-tread your path into the room, and wait for the revelation. Why in the world did I come in here? Argh! I don’t KNOW!!

Welcome to a brain-out. It happens a lot, you say? Preaching to the choir, sister.

It’s not necessarily something to be concerned about, but it’s always a good idea to keep your brain in tiptop shape, especially as you age. After all, the brain is inarguably one of the most important organs in the body. In fact, it does such a great job acting as the command center for almost every part of our day-to-day functioning that we sometimes forget it needs a check-in now and again, too. But with today’s stressful (read: chaotic?) lifestyles, being intentional about keeping it healthy is a must.

Brain facts

Through the wonder of the nervous system, the brain controls heart function, digestion, respiration, movement, and other basic bodily functions. Unfortunately, as busyness and stress mounts in Americans’ lives, brain health is decreasing, with some experiencing cognitive decline as early as age 20. In fact, three in five Americans will develop brain disease in their lifetimes, with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke the most prominent conditions.

Yikes! What can I do?

With genetics and environment playing a role, total control of mental decline is impossible. But! The good news is that, just as lifestyle choices affect your overall health, you can make choices to keep your brain healthy and your mental capabilities sharp well into retirement and beyond. And now’s the time to start.

Let’s get physical

Moving your body, especially through cardiovascular exercise, keeps blood flow to the brain strong, which boosts its function and health. Hormones released during exercise can also stimulate chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood, and even problem solving. Maybe that’s why some say their best ideas come during a jog or long walk.

Eat your way smarter

A diet rich in vitamins and minerals not only supports your muscles, but also your brain. The brain carries out many complex functions, and most of these rely on the nutrition we take in on a daily basis. Keep your diet rich with vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole grains. By eating a healthy diet, you’ll also minimize high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for brain disease.

Give it a rest

Sleep is vital to brain health. In fact, sleep not only improves mood and thinking, but it may also reduce abnormal buildup in the brain of a protein associated with Alzheimer’s called beta-amyloid plaque. By adding sufficient rest and relaxation into your schedule—yes, you must be intentional!—you can also reduce stress, positively impacting your overall health, as well as brain function.

Stay social

Human beings need community and connection in order to maintain our ability to communicate with others. Make sure to spend time engaging in stimulating conversations and stay connected with friends and family. Join a book club, play card games with friends, or find other means of interacting on a daily or weekly basis.

Have fun while improving mental fitness!

You know those stories you hear about grandparents who graduate from college at age 80? They’re not only following their passions, they’re also doing something great for their brain health.

Never consider yourself too old to learn or assume you already know it all! Whether that means taking guitar lessons, diving into a foreign language, or taking up a new hobby every few years, go for it! Play games like Scrabble (there are so many apps for this, like Peak and Lumosity, and many more), stretch your mind with complex puzzles and crosswords, and complete that 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle you’ve been putting off. Talk to people and really listen, think, and question. Having fun and exploring the world isn’t just for kids!

Brain health is essential to maintaining a high quality of life as you age. We can’t control every facet of our mental faculties, but we can do a lot to keep our minds sharp, to learn and grow, and stay mentally stimulated throughout our lives. Follow these tips and see how smart you are!

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