You eat well and exercise to stay physically healthy, and you maintain an active social life to stay socially healthy. Doesn’t it make sense, then, you should work to stay mentally healthy, too? While there is no treatment currently available to cure any of the irreversible causes of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, there are steps every individual can take throughout his or her lifetime to sharpen the mind.
We discuss a few of those steps here to keep your brain sharp.
Learn New Skills
Learning a challenging new activity can strengthen the connections between parts of your brain. In a recent study, Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, randomly assigned 200 older adults to spend 15 hours a week for three months learning either quilting or digital photography.
Compared to a “social group” that watched movies or reminisced about past vacations and a group that worked quietly at home listening to the radio or playing easy games and puzzles, the groups challenged to learn a new skill experienced significant gains in memory. One year later, they had retained their improved memory function.
Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increases growth factors in the brain, making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections. And a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found aerobic exercise seems to boost the size of the hippocampus, which is involved in verbal memory and learning.
Mindful relaxation, a stress management technique that focuses on breathing to calm the body, can help reduce negative health effects of stress on your body and mind. In a Harvard study, adults who practiced mindful stress reduction for eight weeks exhibited a significant increase in the density of gray matter in the hippocampus.
Consume a Healthy Diet
You know what you eat affects more than your waistline. You may also know certain foods have been shown to enhance brain function, improve mental performance, or decrease the risk of memory loss.
A Harvard study, for example, shows drinking two cups of hot chocolate per day improved blood flow and sparks energy in the brain. Other studies have linked daily coffee consumption to reduced risk of dementia. Other “brain foods” include berries (such as strawberries and blueberries), whole grains, oily fish, tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds.
Research shows close relationships and large social networks have a positive impact on memory and cognitive function as people age. Some studies have even shown that an active social life may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Alter Your Attitude
Being happy matters more to your brain than you might think. According to Psychology Today, being happy stimulates the growth of nerve connections, improves cognition by increasing mental productivity, improves your ability to analyze and think, and increases attentiveness. Studies also show happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than unhappy people.
You’re never too young or old to work toward improving your cognitive health. Start taking these steps now, and you could be on your way to a sharper mind.
Want more information on brain health? See our new eBook, “Keeping Your Brain Healthy as You Get Older.”