by Susan Grotenhuis
What are the best strategies for keeping your brain healthy? There is a lot of information floating around telling you what to do to stay mentally sharp. While all of it is useful, not all of it is significant. Some tips are more valuable than others. Sustained effort is key when implementing any strategy. It takes work to keep a complicated organ such as our brain in optimum condition. Follow these five simple steps to keep your mind bright.
1. BE ADVENTUROUS. It’s comfortable to cling to our routines—from how we like our coffee to the quickest route into town . But routine is a high-ranking brain enemy. When we repeat the same behaviors over and over, the brain kicks into auto-pilot. For that reason, introducing change is vital to brain health. Ask yourself how you can make everyday experiences new. Add some adventure, change whatever you can and surprise your brain with new challenges!
2. MOVE. Experts agree that aerobic exercise has the most benefit in terms of helping your brain stay young. Encourage important blood-flow to the brain by doing at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking) each week. Start where you can and gradually build up from there. Setting small, monthly goals keeps your efforts focused and on track. Team up with a buddy and you’ll both stay more committed.
3. RELAX. To have a healthy brain you have to lower your stress. The reason is a hormone called cortisol. Some cortisol is acceptable but too much causes damage to the hippocampus, which plays a big part in memory. Stress also leads to other conditions bad for the brain, such as hypertension and weight gain. So do your best to reduce the stressors in your life – don’t overcommit, laugh with friends, talk when it helps, walk among the trees or get a massage!
4. EAT SMART. Keep those arteries – in your heart and your brain – from getting stiff and clogged with fat by eating plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains. Stick with healthy fats such as those in nuts, avocados and olive oil. Try to fill half your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables. They are full of anti-oxidants and help the brain eliminate harmful toxins. Avoid white flour found in breads and pastries. Losing those extra pounds helps too. Studies show maintaining a healthy weight equals a better chance at a healthy brain.
5. BE HAPPY. Human beings are social creatures. Our brain is designed to interact with others and derives great benefit from close relationships. When we are happy our brains are happy. Oscar Ybarra, PhD at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research discovered that interacting with others excites the frontal lobes where planning and decision-making happen, creating a sort of cognitive reservoir, potentially staving off cognitive decline. So share a joke and a smile and get brain healthy!