This is the second blog post in a series about brain health. In the first blog post of the series, I explained what the brain does and why maintaining the health of your brain matters. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
Now that you know the basics, I want to share five life hacks that will support the overall health of your brain, even as it ages.
Five Life Hacks to Support the Health of Your Brain
Research shows that close relationships and social networks can have a beneficial impact on cognitive function and memory as we age. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health interviewed 2249 women over the course of four years. They asked questions like, “How many people can you rely on for help?” and “How many people can you talk to about private matters” They also kept a record of the number of visits and phone calls the women received from family and friends.
Through their research, they discovered that the women with larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller networks. The women who had daily contact with friends and family reduced their risk of dementia by half (4), showing just how important it is to regularly engage in stimulating conversation and have a community of support.
2. Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise is most commonly associated with weight loss, but research shows that 30 minutes or more of low impact aerobic exercise can increase brain volume in older adults, specifically in areas of the brain linked to age-related functional decline.
There is also evidence that regular aerobic exercise significantly increases both gray and white matter regions of the brain (1). Increased brain volume and neural growth sound like great reasons to incorporate some moderate walking or jogging into your daily movement routine!
This may seem like common sense, but it’s something that is overlooked or trivialized by many. We live such busy lives, but it’s important to make time to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. This is by far the fastest and most reliable way to improve brain function. Inadequate sleep can make it difficult to concentrate and retain information. It also raises cortisol, a stress hormone, which can cause dopamine production to decrease, making you prone to irritability and mood swings (2).
Lack of sleep also causes a build-up of beta-amyloid plaque, a toxic protein that can accumulate in the spaces between the nerve cells in the brain. High levels of beta-amyloid plaque are often found in patients with Alzheimer’s (3), so reducing the growth and buildup of this plaque is essential not only for the overall health of your brain but also for preventing the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
4. Stress Management
This is a hack I mention often It is essential for healthy brain functioning, but also necessary for overall wellness. Similar to inadequate sleep, high levels of prolonged stress can cause brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss.
Our lives are busy. We’re tied to our phones, emails and text messages. We’re constantly being asked to multitask and run from place to place. All of these things can overwhelm and place undue stress on your brain and body.
To counteract the stress of daily living, it’s important to create space during your day for “mental health breaks.” I recommend taking a 5-10 minute break every 3-4 hours. During this time, find a space that feels comfortable, turn off the notifications on your phone and focus on your breath. If it helps, you can also play calm, soothing music. One of my favorite things to listen to during my mental health breaks is “Devi Prayer.” I also love gong baths, like this one. Both of these relax me and create the environment I need to find relief from the stresses of life.
5. Mental Fitness
In addition to conversation, it’s also important to stimulate your brain with mental challenges. Keeping the brain active and engaged with activities like learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, and engaging in games like chess and crossword puzzles helps to create new neural pathways and prevent cognitive decline.
One of my favorite ways to activate my brain is by using an exercise that I learned from memory and speed reading expert, Jim Kwik. It’s a memory care game that you can add to your daily routine. Basically, you remember the names of everyone you meet. To make the process easier, you can create a story around each person or name, or associate their name with what they’re wearing. This exercise will help to keep your brain active, healthy, and challenged.
If you enjoy games, you can also try Lumosity, which is a simple online tool to allow you to train core cognitive abilities (while also have fun)!
Of course, it’s ideal to incorporate all five of these hacks into your daily routine for the best results, but it’s ok to choose one or two to start and gradually incorporate the others. Slow progress is better than no progress at all.
So I can cheer you on as you begin your journey to better brain health, leave a comment and share which one of these hacks you plan to add into your routine right away. I can’t wait to hear from you!