How much do you know about Brain Health? Is it important to you?
A 2015 survey yielded results showing over 90% of American adults consider brain health to be important; with 93% of respondents noting that brain health is extremely important. With those results, it’s probably safe to say that brain health is important to you too. I know it’s important to me. I have one family friend that succumbed to Alzheimer’s in his final years, and a family member that’s experiencing short-term memory loss now.
So if brain health is important, can you name the 5 ways to encourage brain health?
It’s not just about brain exercises. Interestingly, keeping physically fit plays a key role, but it’s more about taking a holistic approach to healthier living that includes fitness, continuing to learn by challenging your brain, eating the right foods, managing stress, and connecting with others. Let’s look a little closer:
- Keep Fit: Studies show that even small amounts of regular exercise like walking can positively impact brain health.
- Learn More: Everything from learning a new language or skill to participating in online exercises designed to challenge and test the brain.
- Manage Your Stress: Several studies indicate sleep and stress management improve brain health.
- Eat Right: Scientific research shows that certain elements in food – from omega-3 fatty acids to vitamin E – can positively impact brain health.
- Stay Social: Research shows that staying socially connected to other people supports a healthy brain.
How much exercise do you really need? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week. That’s just 30 minutes, 5 times per week. If you’re one of those incredibly busy people for whom 2 ½ hours is just too much, the CDC also says that “1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms)” is acceptable.
Remember the article on rowing? The reason I love rowing is that it works all the major muscle groups, and if you do a high intensity workout on the rowing machine, you’ll work all your major muscle groups and get the vigorous exercise recommended. It’s important that you do what you enjoy, for the simple reason that if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do it more regularly, and that’s the key.
All learning is good, but in particular, learn a musical instrument. Learning a musical instrument is shown to:
- Improve performance on cognitive tasks
- Increase memory capacity
- Enhance coordination
- Improve mathematical ability
- Reduce stress
In one study from the University of South Florida, Tampa focused on the impact of piano lessons on adults between the ages of 60 and 85, the people who took piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions. Plus playing music is fun!
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In addition to musical instruments, learning additional languages is great. Studies show that older bilingual people have better memory and executive control than older monolingual people, which has real-world health benefits. Anything helps, including pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project at work that involves a skill you don't usually use can function the same way.
Maintain a positive outlook. A study by Yale University found that people who feel good about themselves as they get older live about seven and a half years longer than “glass half empty” types. Maintaining a positive outlook is key - researchers say people with more positive attitudes deal with stress better and have a stronger will to live.
Stay close to family and friends. Social interaction reduces stress, and can help prevent stress-related diseases. Social support can slow down the flow of stress hormones in seniors and, not coincidentally, increase longevity. Other studies have found that social interactions can help older people stay mentally sharp and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.
Exercise. Exercise is a proven stress-buster for people of all ages, may be especially valuable in later years. Regular walks, bike rides, or water aerobics can do more than keep a person strong and independent; exercise can actually help block the effects of aging on cortisol levels.
(Interesting how these things fold in on one another, right?)
No doubt you’ve heard that there’s a lot of evidence out there showing that the Mediterranean diet can extend your life. Simply put, that means eat foods high in healthy fats like olive oil, lots of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish — and with little red meat or sugar. It appears to be important to reduce your protein intake and increase healthy complex carbohydrates.
There’s lots of evidence to suggest that caloric restriction is helpful, which means more than just . In part, this practice simply refers to not overeating. But perhaps just as important is building periods of fasting into your routine — evidence suggests that doing this for just several hours a day might have a real benefit for some people.
The simple proof of the importance of staying social is from the Blue Zones study, which studied commonalities between populations with the longest lives. All the healthiest, longest lived people in the studies had strong social connections throughout their entire lives. So do what you can – stay connected to your family and friends, volunteer where you can, go to the gym and meet and talk to people, or take Tai Chi in park. Get on Meetup, and join a walking group.