Lifestyle is one of the major factors determining brain health. The great news is that just like your body, if you stretch and exercise your brain, you can keep it fit. In fact, there are a lot of simple things you can do on a regular basis to boost your brainpower to positively effect your brain and your life.
Research now shows that mental stimulation is an important way to develop a stronger, healthier brain. Activities that challenge and focus the brain help build "Brain Reserve," a quality related the brain's plasticity and its ability to reorganize itself and build new connections. A 2006 study by Dr. Sherry Willis and colleagues with the National Institute on Aging was the first to document long-term, positive effects of cognitive training on brain function in older adults. The study proved that at nearly any point in your life, you can strengthen your brain by doing tasks that are new and complex and that stimulate a balanced variety of areas within the brain.
Eating a well balanced, healthy diet won't just get you into your favorite pair of jeans, it can also help you reduce your risk of chronic age-related brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Current research into diet and brain health has shown that nutrition plays a large part in brain development and function throughout your life. With good nutrition and a few healthy eating habits, you can be on your way to reducing your risk of future ailments and improving your day-to-day mental health and well being.
Staying active is one of the biggest boosts you can give your brain. Every time your heart beats, 25% of the blood it generates goes directly to your brain. That blood carries oxygen and nutrients vital to brain health. The more fit your heart, the more effectively it can feed your brain with what it needs to stay sharp. In fact, in a study published in the Journal of Gerontology, Dr. Stanley Colcombe and colleagues found that upping the blood flow to your brain can trigger neurochemical changes that actually increase the production of new brain cells and decrease your risk of dementia.
Socialization has been part of our DNA since the beginning of time. Research now suggests a potentially important health role for maintaining socialization throughout your life. The activities you engage in have an impact on your brain health and perhaps affect your vulnerability to neurodegenerative disease. People who isolate or segregate themselves have been shown to be at greater risk of developing dementia than those who remain integrated into society. Socializing with others provides an opportunity for communication, critical thought, creativity and emotional expression. It also plays a vital role in boosting personal meaning and identity. Fortunately, there are many ways to expand our social networks and develop new roles and purpose to ensure brain health even as we enter retirement.
Spirituality encompasses more than an appreciation for religious values. At its essence, it involves means for you to turn inward away from the material world and its hurried demands to a more peaceful existence. Spiritual practices can involve prayer, meditation, yoga, quiet contemplation, or any other relaxation that helps you slow down and connect with the essence of who you are and what you value in life. It can also be an effective way to fight stress. In a recent study on stress and the brain, Dr. Jeansok Kim of the University of Washington, found that chronic or traumatic stress has a negative impact on cognitive processes such as learning and memory. Conversely, according to a survey in Parade Magazine, 95% of U.S. physicians believe spirituality is important to the well being of their patients. In fact, research has demonstrated the following positive impacts of regular spiritual practice on health:
- An enhanced immune system
- Earlier discharge from hospital stays
- Greater longevity