As we move through our lives, our brains are always changing. Through the years, we grow in knowledge and experience, and we exhibit more wisdom and maturity. At the same time, our minds can face new challenges. We may find that a name eludes us, or the right word comes a bit slower. Multi-tasking may become much more difficult.
As the body ages, the brain is also impacted. For example, certain parts of the brain shrink, blood flow may decrease, and inflammation may increase. Yet, we all can take steps to boost our brain health — in ways that improve our overall well-being. Here are five important ways to take care of your mind:
1. Focus on proactive wellness
Make sure you’re getting regular checkups and managing chronic health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and depression. Try to get seven or eight hours of sleep at night. Be aware of hazards around your home that could cause falls and increase the chances of a brain injury.
2. Eat healthy
Nutrition can help reduce some chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and may also impact brain health. But what does healthy eating look like? Choose fruits and vegetables first, then lean protein (such as chicken, fish and eggs), whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta) and low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives). Stay hydrated and choose recommended portions.
There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet or a MIND diet (the combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, may lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment. The MIND diet includes 10 brain-healthy food groups:
3. Feed your mind, too
Keep learning and growing throughout life. Volunteer, try a new hobby, take or teach a class — find activities you enjoy and that are meaningful to you. Scientists believe this can create a cognitive reserve to help the brain remain more adaptable. Some cognitive training has also been shown to be helpful, but the National Institute on Aging (NIA) warns against gimmicks that promise to improve brain function.
At the same time, feed your spirit. Whatever your faith practice, be sure to engage in practices that enhance your sense of peace and well-being.
4. Get moving
Keep physically active by walking or running, doing workout videos at home, or joining a gym (once social distancing allows it). According to the NIA, studies now link ongoing physical activity with benefits for the brain. “In one study, exercise stimulated the human brain's ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones that are vital to cognitive health,” reports NIA.
Federal guidelines on exercise recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
5. Stay social
While it can be challenging to stay social connected, especially in a season of social distancing, be creative and stay in touch with friends and family. Learn to video chat or text, make phone calls or even write letters. When social distancing lifts, go to lunch with a friend, take a grandchild to the park or join a book club or bowling league. Check out programs offered through your local Agency on Aging. Social isolation seems to be bad for the brain, so stay engaged.
While there is no magic formula for brain health, taking these healthy steps can enhance life — body, mind and spirit. You’ve likely cared for others much of your life, take these five steps to care for your health.
May 6, 2020