When we think about healthy habits, we often just consider habits that affect our physical health, but did you know that healthy habits can keep our brains nourished and active too?
Like your muscles, your brain needs the right nutrients and activity to help support its function, such as memory and word retrieval. This in turn helps us enjoy reading, learning new languages, reciting poems, remembering stories and even telling jokes better! Top brain acuity can also help us to be less forgetful, rely less on lists, as well as to become more organised and proactive.
Growing evidence is now suggesting that if you adopt key lifestyle habits you may reduce your risk of cognitive decline and short-term memory loss as you age.
So, when is the best time to introduce some new habits to help boost your brain health? Right now! It is never too early or too late to introduce small healthy lifestyle changes that will support your brain function. Here are my top six diet and lifestyle hacks to help keep your brain in tip top order.
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Feed your brain (and your gut)
What we eat helps to keep our brains healthy, whilst also supporting mental tasks such as concentration and memory.
Top brain-feeding foods include oily fish which are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Think salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. If you are not a fan of fish, don’t panic, you could include an omega-3 supplement into your daily routine.
Choline is another key brain-food which helps with memory and processing as well as executive function. Choline rich foods include liver, eggs, red meat, soya, peanut butter, sunflower seeds and sunflower lecithin.
Other foods that support brain health include blueberries, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, nuts and my favourite, dark chocolate!
Don’t forget to also feed your gut microbiome. The gut is known as your second brain because it helps to make brain hormones called neurotransmitters! This is why a healthy gut is now thought to play a role in helping to prevent cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. The diversity of the gut bacteria in your belly can be enhanced by eating a broad range of veggies, salads, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains as well as consuming cultured foods such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Take regular exercise
When we engage in exercise that elevates our heart rate it also increases blood flow to our brain. Some studies have linked a reduced risk of cognitive decline with regular physical activity. This can be regular movement during the day as well as more intense activity.
One great way to make exercise more fun is by dance! When we learn a new dance routine, it activates the brain to form new neural connections and it can also calm your brain’s response to stress. Trampolining and rebounding routines can also help and are super fun too.
Stress has a huge influence on our brain health, so it’s important to learn ways to decompress and calm our ‘fight or flight’ response to day-to-day challenges. We all have our own ways to relax but here are a few ideas if you need some inspiration: meditation, yoga, breath work, walking in nature, Pilates, gardening, reading, painting and soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath.
Get enough sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, not only does it make you feel generally quite bleurgh, but it can also affect the important work of microglia in the brain. The microglia are the housekeepers for the brain that keep it healthy and functioning properly. If insomnia or lack of enough sleep becomes a habit, then this is thought to affect the microglia and pose greater risk for cognitive decline over time. Therefore, making sleep a priority is super important, as poor sleep often affects the quality of our memory and thinking. The US National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 and 9 hours per night for healthy adults.
Try something new
Don’t forget to engage in activities that activate and challenge your mind! This could be something as simple as completing a jigsaw puzzle, playing games such as sudoku or chess (which require you to think strategically), or learn a new language. Challenging your brain in these ways may have long and short-term benefits for your brain.
If, like me, you want to keep your brain as sharp as possible as you age, then I hope these tips will help you to become less forgetful and scatty, and more confident with learning new skills.
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