Your brain health is just as important as that of the rest of your body, says psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Sabina Brennan. Here's how to start looking after it properly.
Want to ensure your brain remains healthy? Here are just a few ways you can immediately invest in your brain health ...
Cherish your sleep
Disrupted sleep can harm or damage your ability to learn and make memories, and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure to get the right amount of sleep for your age.
Keep a handle on stress
Acute stress can enhance memory, but poorly managed chronic stress can impair memory in the longer term. Too little stress leads to boredom and depression. You need to find your personal stress sweet spot, where you feel challenged but not overwhelmed.
Stay socially engaged
People who live a socially engaged life experience slower cognitive decline and are less likely to get Alzheimer’s. Social engagement helps to maintain cognitive functioning. Just ten minutes of social interaction can boost brain performance. Stay connected with friends and family, and make sure children spend time socialising in person as well as on social media.
Challenge your brain with a hobby
Education is the greatest cognitive enhancer. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone or into new situations that challenge you will change your brain chemistry, impacting positively on its function. It doesn’t have to be academic, but should involve challenge, novelty and learning. For example, if you play a musical instrument, push yourself to play a piece that challenges you or take up a new instrument. If you do crosswords, try the next difficulty level or complete the puzzle within a time limit. Take up new hobbies, learn new things and meet new people.
Love your heart (and it will love you back)
Your heart health is closely linked to your brain health, as your brain needs a reliable supply of oxygen and nutrients to function. Midlife high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and midlife obesity increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Know your numbers – get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checked and maintain a healthy weight and BMI. Eat a diet rich in colourful vegetables and oily fish.
Get physically active
Physical activity has direct benefits on the structure and functioning of your brain. In contrast, a sedentary life increases your risk of heart disease and dementia. If you reduced your daily sitting time from eight hours to six by standing for two more hours every day, the net effect is the equivalent of running six marathons a year. Make sure children get regular exercise and encourage them to break up sitting spells by getting up and moving about every hour.
Adjust your attitude
How you perceive life and situations matter. Older adults with positive self-perceptions of ageing live, on average, 7.5 years longer than those with less positive ones. Check your own prejudices about ageing and start seeing growing older in a more positive light.
Protect your noggin
Put safety first – wear seatbelts, reflective gear and helmets where appropriate and heed medical advice to minimise and treat concussions through sports.
100 Days to a Younger Brain by Dr Sabina Brennan (Orion Spring, approx €17) is out now, sabinabrennan.ie.
Illustration by Laura Kenny. This article was originally published in the April 2019 edition of IMAGE Magazine.
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