As we age, so too does our mind. In this we have a choice though: we can keep it in good shape, almost like a nice vintage of wine, that gains value the older it grows, or we can let it slip and end up with a mind that no longer performs like it used to. So how do you keep your mind in shape?
For starters, using your brain’s ability to complete mental tasks will keep things running smoothly. Reading, puzzles, learning new skills, going to school, and generally anything else that requires focused mental energy should do the trick. Even activities that are coupled with manual stimulation, like writing or painting have shown to keep the mind sharp. Researchers believe that engaging in ‘brainy’ activities helps to stimulate connections between nerve cells and could even help the brain generate new cells. Those new cells will act almost as a reserve, ready to be called upon when older cells die.
On top of being crucial to your overall health, physical exercise is also extremely important to your mental health. Regular exercise will increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Exercise has even been shown to help increase connections between nerve cells, resulting in a brain that is more efficient and adaptive. Exercise also works wonders for reducing mental stress along with a whole host of other health problems that could affect your brain like, diabetes, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
You are what you eat. Now that doesn’t mean you should go around like a zombie asking for brains, but it does mean you should seriously consider what you are putting into your body. A diet rich in leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains will keep your body and mind in tip-top shape. Avoid overeating, and reduce your consumption of trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (junk food basically). You might want to consider reducing your overall meat consumption as well, as the high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat can be detrimental in large amounts. Lastly, ingesting proper amounts of B vitamins can decrease your risk of dementia. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid have been proven to lower homocysteine levels (an amino-acid linked to dementia), and are abundant in leafy green vegetables, and whole grains.
Protecting Your Head
If you have been in a car accident, or have experienced concussions through sports or other activities, you have probably noticed a temporary decrease in mental function. While this is normal, it should serve as an example to you that the brain is as likely to suffer a physical injury as any other part of the body. Many brain damage victims are a result of physical injury to the brain. A person who has experienced concussions in their lifetime increases the chance of cognitive impairment in old age by a factor of 10. Some common sense ways to protect yourself from brain injury is to wear proper headgear when competing in sports (i.e. bike helmets, boxing gear, etc.), and to seek immediate medical attention should you believe you are experiencing symptoms of a concussion or brain damage.
We all suffer from one degree of mental health problems or another. Whether you have traumatic experiences in your past, or the levels of stress associated with your job or family are too high, not properly caring for your emotional health can have lasting detrimental effects on your brain. People who are anxious, depressed, or exhausted tend to score lower on cognitive function tests. Lack of attention to emotional and mental health also correlates with alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, all of which negatively impact the brain. Alcohol especially is closely linked with dementia, and excessive drinking can impair brain functions at a young age. In recent years studies have shown that having strong social networks, seeing a therapist, and meditation can all help improve your emotional health. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, and increase activity in the hippocampus region of your brain (the area responsible for long-term memory and spatial navigation).
No health plan is complete without addressing how to keep your brain in shape. The brain is in charge of the whole of your body, and it performs its jobs so effortlessly sometimes we forget about it. Treat your brain right starting now, and you will see the dividends when you are older. So turn off the boob tube, grab a book and a handful of spinach, and begin your mental journey.