Make Better Brain Health Your New Year’s Resolution

Sunday, January 6, 2019

As your environment and lifestyle changes, so does your brain. Healthy brain function depends on what you eat and drink, how well you sleep, the way you socialize and how well you manage stress. Thanks to a growing body of evidence, we now have more knowledge about what it takes to maintain and improve cognitive function.

Striving for better brain health could help you accomplish other goals as well as enhance your everyday life. This year, when you write down your new year goals, consider adding the following practices to your list:

A healthy diet not only benefits your body, but also your brain. The brain is one of the most important and powerful organs in the human body. It requires high-quality foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to maintain proper function as well as protect from oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells.

Foods you eat affect how you think and feel. For example, Captain Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., acting chief of the Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, suggests that poor nutrition is closely related to the increasingly high mortality rate among people with mental illness and a primary reason this group lives 10 fewer years than the rest of the population.

Some examples of brain foods include leafy greens, nuts, berries and omega-3 fatty acids.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE: KEEP YOUR BODY MOVING                                      
Physical exercise could improve your overall health and brain function. According to a number of studies, exercising on a regular basis could prevent bone loss, improve balance and coordination, lift your mood, boost your brain flow and memory, and lower your risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In addition, exercising regularly could also help you improve your attention span as well as stimulate changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood and thinking. Remember, you’re never too old to keep your body moving.

Our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives. This ability is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity involves a “fire together, wire together” principle: If certain neurons keep firing at the same time, eventually they’ll develop a physical connection and become physically associated. Regularly practicing mental exercises such as meditating, exercising or learning how to play an instrument can help your brain form new neural pathways. If you don’t exercise your brain, you may slowly begin to lose your cognitive abilities.

SLEEP & RELAXATION: REST WELL                                                             
Sleep is an important part of our daily routine. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep is vital to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes depression, and obesity.

Loneliness is bad for the brain, especially for older adults. Research shows that leading an active social life helps you to enjoy a longer, healthier life, reduces stress and may also protects against dementia. According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation may have physical and emotional effects such as depression and elevated systolic blood pressure. Seeing a movie with friends, joining a team sport, or playing chess with friends are some ways to strengthen your social network.