06 Feb Healthy Brain Function
Healthy brain function refers to our ability to retain key cognitive functions: thinking, learning, and remembering which in turn allows us to reason, concentrate, make plans, evaluate and organize information.
Aging is of course inevitable, but with our increasing life expectancy we have a remarkable opportunity to seize the day and make good dietary and lifestyle choices to optimize our brain function and ability to live with dignity and vitality.
Genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors are associated with cognitive function. While we can’t do too much about inherited risk factors, we can preserve and even enhance brain health with a few simple lifestyle practices. Here are some tips for keeping your brain active, healthy and sharp:
Never Stop Learning. Ongoing research shows the brain is able to evolve and learn across the lifespan. The key is to keep those neurons (brain cells) engaged. Actively seek to learn and experience new things. Read a variety of types of books and magazines. Play Sudoku, chess or other games that involve problem solving. Use an iPad. Travel. Learn a new language. Take (or teach) a class. This kind of mental stimulation helps your brain form new memories, strengthens existing memories, and creates new neural connections.
Stay Connected. Involvement with family, friends, and community creates positive emotions that are linked with overall vitality. People who are alone most of the time show sharper declines in cognitive function. If family isn’t nearby, join a club or volunteer.
Move that Body. Research indicates exercise improves connections among brain cells and may reduce risk for dementia. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week unless otherwise advised by your physician.
Protect Your Brain. If you smoke or frequently drink alcohol it’s akin to draining the brain’s natural resources. Smoking interferes with healthy blood circulation, not just in the body but also to the brain. Alcohol impairs communication between neurons and causes long-term changes in brain chemicals involved with memory, emotion, and coordination. Certain prescription medicines (or a combination of medicines) can affect cognition, memory or thinking. If you experience such changes, or notice them in a loved one, talk to your doctor.
And it goes without saying (but it’s always good to be reminded): Eating whole food diet that’s minimally processed and includes lots of colorful fruits and vegetables and drinking sufficient amounts of water (minimum 5 glasses) is the foundation for optimal brain health.