When it comes to taking care of our everyday health, we never really stop to consider the importance of our brains. We live in a modern society that places great emphasis on appearances, so keeping the body in good shape tends to take precedence and to register highly on many people’s health-related priorities. While this is hardly surprising news, the fact that brain health is so little thought of and accounted for in comparison to physical health should probably ring a few alarm bells. This is, after all, the most complex organ in our bodies! The brain controls every aspect of our thoughts, actions and feelings, from logical decisions to physical urges to memory recall, and all the many things in between.
While it’s incredibly easy to take our brains for granted, a good way to think of the brain is to envision it as a muscle that improves and strengthens with increased exercise and stimulation. Thought and action is so intricately and immediately linked that it’s not often we pause to marvel at the brilliance of our brains. However, as we grow older and encounter more professional and personal challenges in our lives, looking after the brain becomes increasingly vital. Actually putting this into action may sound drastic, but there’s simple steps you can take to maintain your brain health. By slightly adjusting your diet and exercise regime and by picking up a few new habits, you can work towards boosting your brain power, improving concentration and memory recall, and cultivating a healthy mental and emotional state.
While you should never neglect your physical health, of course, remember that keeping your brain in tip-top shape should be a priority too. There’s no absolute way to guarantee that your memory and mind will be faultless forever, but there are several actions you can take to preserve and protect the wellbeing of your most important organ. Feeling intrigued? Keep reading to find out more.
There’s food that’s good for the body, and then there’s food that’s good for the brain. Luckily, the latter often overlaps with the former! There’s growing evidence that maintaining a varied and nutritious diet rich with certain vitamins and minerals can help to reduce the risk of dementia and overall maintain brain health. Antioxidants, which can be found in fruits and vegetables such as blueberries and artichokes, help to prevent oxidation, which is a process that occurs in various brain diseases by damaging brain cells. B group vitamins such as vitamin B12 and B9 (folate) are very important as they improve cell function, and deficiencies in these vitamins have been associated with cognitive impairment and dementia. To get your fill of B group vitamins, try consuming foods such as meat, cheese and eggs (for vitamin B12), and leafy green vegetables, cereals and citrus fruits (for folate). Meanwhile, dietary fats that are monounsaturated and polysaturated have also been proven to boost both mental and physical health. Increase your intake of these omega-3 fatty acid foods with salmon, walnuts and sardines.
Staying physically active is clearly good for the body, but did you know it can also significantly improve your brain function? Each time your heart beats, 25% of the blood that is generated travels directly to the brain. Exercise increases your heart rate, which in turn generates more blood and carries more oxygen and vital nutrients to your brain. This helps to keep you stay mentally sharp and switched on, both in the short term and long term. Research has shown that there is a significant correlation between physical activity and academic achievement for Australia children, wherein regular exercise can help to enhance cognitive functioning, as well as focus, concentration and motivation in the classroom. Other studies have also proven that routinely engaging in physical exercise can boost cognitive performance across the lifespan, by preventing certain regions of the brain from shrinking as people age.
Your social and cultural environment definitely has a significant impact on your brain health and your mental state, as do your working and leisurely habits and your personal and professional relationships. If you haven’t previously considered how your overall lifestyle might be affecting your brain health, now could be a good time to start. When we are young, our schooling environment specifically works to stimulate our brain power through academic challenges, but once we enter the workplace, often the importance of improving brain function unfortunately falls by the wayside.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways in which you can personally work to keep your brain fit and healthy throughout your lifetime. In your 20s and 30s, it’s imperative to maintain a balance between work and play, and to make the most of your social connections and interactions. Spending time with friends and family will relax your brain and give you mental down time, to offset the mental duress you will no doubt experience in your working environment. In regards to work specifically, you can counteract mental slippage by limiting multitasking (which reduces productivity and results in brain fatigue and stress), focusing on important priorities, challenging yourself with new responsibilities, and by actively processing the meanings of visual and verbal texts.
For people in their 40s, 50s and beyond, cognitive decline becomes more common, so you should push yourself to always learn new things, stay organized mentally,take advantage of your life experiences by questioning new ideas and theories, engage and maintain your relationships with loved ones, and even to coach or mentor other adults if you are able. By continually challenging your brain and testing its limits, you will effectively be exercising and increasing its power and productivity.
If you ever played board games, jigsaws and puzzles when you were a kid, you should definitely consider taking up with them again in adulthood.
By forcing your brain to strategize, evaluate and solve problems in a fun context, you’ll be improving your mental agility and having a great time doing so. Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that you can improve your memory by 30 to 50 percent, simply by doing mental exercises. If you love reading, try diversifying your interests and taking in a range of different texts, from novels and poetry to newspapers, magazines and non-fiction. Learning a new language is also a fantastic way to help your brain grow and develop. “Thinking” games such as Scrabble, chess and Trivial Pursuit have the double advantage of being highly enjoyable and socially interactive. Crosswords and Sudoku puzzles are similarly interesting and challenging ways to boost your brain power.
Some people might argue that the mind has nothing to do with the brain, that the former does not exist as a physical part of the body unlike the latter. While this viewpoint is certainly valid, there’s no doubt that the brain and the mind are inextricably linked. Dementia, for example, proves this – the mind cannot endure, perfectly unaltered, when the brain itself has suffered damage. Therefore, it’s not difficult to see how and why mental and emotional health is associated with brain health. Cultivating and maintaining a happy and healthy state of mind is important, not just for your overall wellbeing, but specifically for your brain power, memory and recall, emotional health, creative thinking, and many other areas of the brain.
The hectic and fast-paced nature of modern urban life has contributed to increasing mental health issues, with more and more people suffering from workplace demands, social alienation and personal family problems. With mental conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia on the rise, it’s more important than ever to look after your brain and to work towards mental and emotional stability and contentment.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Stress, anxiety and depression are all different, although the line between these three conditions is often blurred. Stress, which occurs when you feel under immense pressure at the prospect of accomplishing a certain task, can leave you feeling nervous, irritable and restless. Anxiety is when your feelings of stress have become so intense that they interfere with your everyday life, by constantly plaguing you with worrying thoughts. Depression, which can develop from feelings of stress or anxiety, isn’t just momentary sadness or despair – it’s a serious illness which causes people to lose pleasure in every aspect of their lives, leaving them feeling constantly “blank” or despondent.
Suffering from stress, anxiety and/or depression can result in significant cognitive problems, including memory problems, an inability to concentrate, loss of motivation, poor judgement, and constantly negative thoughts. In this way, battling with these mental issues can have severe short term and long term consequences for your brain health.
Learning how to manage stress, anxiety and depression in your life is crucial to your mental, emotional and even physical wellbeing. Identifying the source of the problem(s) is the first step, and from then on, it’s important to try to change your way of thinking of and dealing with these issues.
Relaxation techniques, exercising regularly, eating healthily, making time for friends and family, and speaking out about your feelings can all help you to manage your emotions and feel more in control of your life and your actions. If you feel that stress, anxiety and/or depression is starting to rule your life, it’s very important that you reach out to a loved one or health professional as soon as possible.
For those who are suffering from depression in particular, beyondblue is an amazing source of information, inspiration and support that can really help to get you through the difficulty of your situation. Visit their website and discover all the ways they’ve been helping Australians with depression for over ten years.
Getting the right amount and the right kind of sleep directly affects how well you function, mentally and physically, in everyday life.
If you regularly have trouble falling and/or staying asleep, this will have a significant impact on how productive your brain is during the day, how astute your judgement is, how creative your ideas are, how quickly you can make decisions and solve problems, and your general thought and reasoning process. You may also find yourself feeling emotionally unstable, as exhaustion inevitably brings out negative emotions in people.
The condition has many causes, but often those who constantly experience insomnia can attribute it to stress at work, school or in their personal lives. Insomnia can be treated, but it usually depends on the individual person and the source of their problem. Insomnia caused by poor sleeping habits can easily be improved, but other more significant causes may need to be reviewed by a sleep therapist or other health professional. Often, identifying and understanding the particular events that may be causing your insomnia and proactively dealing with these can ease your inability to slumber peacefully.
The Final Word: Boosting The Brain
Hopefully, we’ve given you a better idea of how and why brain health is so incredibly important. Although it is often underrated in comparison to physical health, your brain and your mind have just as much of an impact on your overall happiness and wellbeing as your body does, if not more so. It’s important to remember that all of our thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs – our very personalities, really – originate from our brains and our minds. Surely, the organ that houses our unique identities is worth looking after!