People often talk about what they’re doing to get in shape or improve fitness, but not so much about keeping their brain sharp. So our body age can improved by exercise but what about our brain age?
Giving your brain a “workout” can improve your memory and make you feel goooood.
Most people think that after a certain age the human brain no longer regenerates but it’s been found that new neurons are being born throughout our lives and it occurs in the grey matter of the brain structure, the hippocampus. This is known as neurogenesis and it’s been worked out that around 700 neurons can be generated everyday, which by the time you’re 50 means that all the neurons you were born with have been replaced.
We’ve known for a long time that the hippocampus is responsible for learning, memory, emotion and mood.
There is no doubt that getting older means a reduction in the growth of neurons and a higher likelihood of external factors causing a higher rate of inhibiting the growth and survival of them.
But the good news is that cognitive decline in older adults can be arrested, long-term memory can be improved and depression and stress become less likely as long as the growth of these neurons aren’t inhibited.
Based on what researchers have found so far here are some do’s and don’ts that will encourage the brain to regenerate and “sharpen the mind”.
1 – Go Outdoors
As well as being good for your body and happiness in general, going outdoors (not just to get a paper!) will help your happiness and help your mind to focus. Getting older often means a loss of spatial awareness so getting out and about improves spatial memory.
Find somewhere green as near to you as you can (this doesn’t have to be the countryside, a local park will do).
The way it will help your mind is by giving it a break from your day to day stresses and strains as it helps you mentally and physically escape.
Festering indoors with little stimulation apart from tv soaps is a no-no.
2 – Diet
It may be no surprise that what sort of food you eat has an affect on your brain age to the extent that researchers now believe that our diet is the modulator of brain functions like memory and mood corresponding with an increase in neurogenesis.
It still follows that all the things we’re told about what to eat and what to avoid holds true, there is no new magic food substance to feast on as there is nothing new to avoid.
So flavonoids found in dark chocolate (hooray) or blueberries increases neurogenesis as does the fatty acids, omega 3 found tuna, sardines and salmon. But a diet ladened with high saturated fats will tend to inhibit the production of neurons.
Apart from what you actually eat it’s been shown that restricting calorie intake by 20 to 30 percent will increase neurogenesis as will intermittent fasting, so spacing the time between meals.
There was something new and a bit strange however, that Japanese researchers unearthed and it is to do with the texture of the food we eat. They have shown that a soft food diet impairs neurogenesis compared to food that needs mastication, so chewy or crunchy food.
It’s not only what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat, but it’s also the texture of the food that promotes good mental health, improved memory and a better overall mood due in turn to the production of the new neurons in the hippocampus.
3 – Gardening
If the idea of digging a heavy spade until you break into a sweat is unappealing, particularly if you have lower back issues, it is worth knowing that gardening doesn’t necessarily have to be a big physical chore.
The good news is that even just doing a bit of basic planting or pruning can help your mental wellbeing. Gardening helps with this by taking your mind off daily stresses and also gives a sense of satisfaction and control.
If you do have your own garden, there is a great sense of pride in reaching certain goals throughout the seasons and entertaining your friends in it is a great bonus.
4 – Reading Books
Reading books has been proven to assist your memory power especially memory recall. If you read a book or indeed your kindle before bed as part of your night time routine it can assist in getting a good night’s sleep, enabling you to be more focused and less stressed the next day. It can calm your mind too, if you get absorbed in a decent story, or stimulate it if you are reading a factual book.
Anything that improves the quality of sleep is always going to be a good thing as it’s been found that sleep-deprivation is a sure way to inhibit neurogenesis.
5 – Exercise
You may already be aware of the advantages exercise can have on the heart and body, but cardio actually delivers oxygen in the blood flow to your brain too and it’s believed that this is the connection between exercise and neurogenesis. Experiments have shown that without a wheel in it’s cage a mouse develops far fewer neurons in the hippocampus than one which can run around it’s wheel daily.
Exercise has been proven to improve long and short memory and to lower the stress inducing hormone cortisol, enabling a clarity of thought.
Through exercise your brain signals you are feeling good with the release of endorphins.
6 – Sudoku/Crosswords
As well as helping you to chill out while you take a break, Sudoku/Crosswords and any other form of brain training have many other benefits. Let’s face it, the more it’s used the more power the brain will retain. Use it or lose it.
They can give you a feeling of personal satisfaction and you could even sit and enjoy some puzzles with the grandchildren, enriching their brain power at the same time as your own.
Puzzles, particularly Sudoku have a link to limiting the ageing effect to your brain and helping your memory. You could always “mix it up” a bit more by alternating between Sudoku, Crosswords improving your number and word skills.
Or why not try one of the good brain games that there is online these days.
We would suggest neuronation.com which was created by scientists or luminosity.com which also looks good although we haven’t tried it.
7 – Cut Down On The Booze but…
Ethanol or alcohol intake will decrease brain age.
While there are conflicting reports at the moment about drinking alcohol in moderation, excessive alcohol consumption does unfortunately damage the brain and inhibits neurogenesis, the regeneration of neurons in the important grey matter.
Although we raise our glasses to celebrate at occasions such as weddings (or even at our weekly pub night out!), it shouldn’t really be taken lightly that alcohol is ultimately a depressant.
The feeling of “relaxing” you may get after an initial drink or two of the alcoholic kind is down to your brain processing slowing down, which is why some people literally can’t remember what they were doing the night before. Laying off the booze can have a positive impact on your sharpness.
Okay the good news is though, if you’re like me and like a glass of red then research has also shown that resveratrol which is found in red wine helps promote the survival of these growing neurons.
8 – Be Sociable
With so much technology surrounding us, there is a temptation to insulate ourselves in our cocoons, but engaging in company can be fun as well as mentally stimulating.
You and your friends could engage in a new activity such as chess, a quiz or book club for example. If a few of you are into cooking, why not host a get together at each others houses, perhaps on a monthly basis, and enjoy sharing your food and recipes? You could also join a cookery class.
9 – Remember To Breathe!
Stress, poor posture and being too busy are just a few of the contributing factors that can stop us performing the most basic bodily function of all, breathing.
We forget, or may not even know, that ten or fewer slower breaths per minute are best for your heart. This is largely because this helps to get the oxygen to your brain, helping with your energy and sharpness.
Yoga and Pilates concentrate on breathing if you fancy trying a class, or a dvd if you prefer the comfort and privacy of your own home.
There is also plenty of advice online and in books about detailed breathing techniques and meditation, This is a yoga course which should be helpful although it promotes it as a weight loss product as well but I believe it’s still only $9 for the download.
Good luck with growing those neurons.