There is an explosion of research into brain health. One result is a growing knowledge base on steps one can take to maintain brain health and even improve focus, memory, and attention. These techniques are good at every stage of life from youth into older age.
Exercise is really good for brain health. Actually, one of the most important things you can do. Mixing up the kinds of exercise that you do seems to be even better.
- Aerobic/cardio exercise helps keep strong healthy blood flow up into the brain.
- For some reason, resistance and weight-training may even be better for brain health than cardio. But, again, let’s assume that mixing up resistance and cardio is better than one or the other.
- Walking, running, jumping, dancing and the like are brain-healthy. Something to do with nerve connections from the sole of the feet to the brain. Or maybe it is just the cardio benefit. But, as the Nike folks say, “Just Do It”.
Eating right is correlated to brain health in two ways.
- Here’s a mantra: if it is good for your heart, it is good for your brain. In addition to heart-healthy exercise, a healthy diet – and current science would lean towards a Mediterranean-style diet heavy on vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and fish and light on red meat and refined grains- is good for your heart, and therefore your brain.
- Additionally, getting your “microbiome” - all the billions of microscopic creatures that live in your gastrointestinal system- healthy is likely connected to, well, everything in your entire human system, including your brain. Your gut has 100 million nerve connections that bundle up to your brain. Researchers actually call this the “second brain”. Science is just beginning to understand what all those little creatures do. Courses of antibiotics can play havoc with your mix of little creatures. The microbiome seems to like fermented things like yogurt, and all kinds of vegetables. Also known as microflora, they may not be too keen on processed meat and artificial sweeteners (why do many people gain about the same amount of weight drinking diet soda as regular soda? Maybe because the microflora get confused by those new substances? Not clear.) Summary – eat healthy stuff to feed your second brain just like your first brain.
Get a good night’s sleep. For real.
- Real, restful sleep is critical to brain maintenance. A lot of stuff happens in your brain as you sleep. Most research indicates that memories get organized at that time. And the brain does some internal housecleaning while you sleep. Think you are getting by just fine on five or six hours of sleep? Not likely. Some of that autonomic brain work is incomplete. Do you have trouble sleeping? Put away the digital devices an hour before bedtime. Set up an evening ritual that culminates in bed at the same time every night. If there are outside lights making your bedroom too bright, wear a sleep mask. Diffuse a calming fragrance like vanilla or lavender. Noisy neighborhood? Get one of the “sound therapy” devices to make a calming sound, like rain or ocean waves.
Stimulate the right way.
- Here’s some good news: coffee is really good for you. (Please see our related post that has new scientific research on this topic). Associated with liver health and brain health as well. Need to get that brain motor firing on all cylinders? Get that cup a Joe. In our office, we sip coffee all day long (our own locally fresh-roasted blends of course).
- People have meditated for thousands of years. While meditation is usually associated with Eastern religions, it was practiced across the world. Siddhartha Gautama, the prince who became known as the Buddha, lectured on meditation around 2,500 years ago; approximately 500 BCE. Issac, an important character in the Old Testament is quoted in Genesis 24:63 “he went out to the field one evening to meditate". Issac lived around 2,000 BCE. Thousands of years later, we’ve learned that they were on to something big. Brain-scanning techniques indicate that meditation activates the precuneus area of the brain, which is associated with memory, attention and focus. Basic meditation is quite simple to practice, and 15-30 minutes a day are likely enough to get the brain health benefit. A study of Buddhist priests who have meditated for years indicated that their meditation involved more areas of the brain, in particular the left prefrontal cortex which is responsible for positive emotions. (This work was part of the foundation of the 10,000-hour hypothesis, which has become controversial. Writer John Geirland penned an excellent article for Wired magazine on this topic: “Buddha on the Brain” which can be found online). Thankfully, we don’t have to strive for 10,000 hours for it to do us some good. We offer carefully selected books on meditation if you are interested in learning more.
Give yourself a treat.
- As quoted in the May 7th, 2017 Boston Globe, Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School noted, “The association between moderate alcohol intake and lower risk of myocardial infarction has been studied in well-designed studies for nearly 50 years”. That glass of wine, or small cocktail is good for you. Here’s the tricky part, which you’ve likely heard before. The limit is one glass, about 4-5 ounces of wine. Or a “pony”-i.e.- the one ounce glass measure as opposed to the jigger-the 1.5-ounce glass, of the hard stuff. Wine may contain some other healthy ingredients not present in, say vodka. Have a (one) drink.
- Have a piece of dark chocolate. Chocolate is full of antioxidants. Rather than delve into more science, let’s just say that antioxidants are good for you. Just like wine, limit yourself to one ounce or less a day. You can hold yourself to an ounce because now that your brain is better it has more discipline.
Be social in the real world
- Humans are social creatures. Real interaction-in person-with other people-not social media, not with avatars, not with devices, is god for you and your brain. Spend time with your family and your extended family. Hang out with your friends. Social interaction reduces/prevents depression (I know, some of your relatives can be depressing, but you may be preventing their depression). Have dinner with an old friend. Go see you mom. It’s good for your brain.
To Get a Bigger Brain-Push into Something New.
- Brain research indicates there is one thing that is highly-likely to grow your brain. That’s right- like weight-training muscles, this will make your brain physically larger. Learn to do something new that requires both concentration and motion. Learn to fly-fish. Learn to yoyo. Line dance. Now, it can’t be something you’ve already done; if you played the xylophone in high school, picking it back up now isn’t quite good enough. Tackle a new activity that makes you think as you act. Here’s a random list: wood carve; juggle; play guitar; paint; make pottery; crochet; sculpt; play piano; shoot pool; throw darts; downhill ski. When retirement facilities put Xbox game controllers in, with bowling games and the like, older adults began to get healthier and more active in multiple ways after playing the games that required motion and thought. Find something you’ve always wanted to do (ride a unicycle) and get after it.
Here at Big Brain Place, we are dedicated to helping everyone reach maximum brain potential.