The brain is an amazing organ that processes millions of thoughts each year, so it’s crucial we do our best to protect it. But because we don’t see it in the mirror each day or experience many physical cues related to it, brain health often takes a back seat to keeping the rest of the body healthy. As we age, the health of our brain becomes more and more important and has a profound impact on quality of life. Luckily, there are many ways to protect, maintain, and even boost brain health – and it doesn’t have to be complicated! Check out these tips to protect the most important part of the body.
- Drink more water
Staying hydrated has countless health benefits. When it comes to the brain, drinking enough water helps keep the nervous system and the brain communicating properly, which will improve focus, alertness, and memory. Dehydration can lead to mental confusion and fatigue, and long-term chronic dehydration can lead to premature aging of the brain. Most research suggests drinking eight glasses of water is a good daily goal but check in with your doctor before you make any drastic changes in your fluid intake.
- Fine-tune your diet
Did you know you can eat your way to better brain function? Foods such as salmon and sardines have Omega-3, which is a fatty acid essential to brain health. Nuts and seeds contain Vitamin E, which appears to slow cognitive decline over time. Foods with antioxidants – such as pomegranate, dark chocolate, and green tea – promote healthy blood flow. Remember that moderation is key, and again – be sure to consult your doctor before making big diet changes to ensure it makes sense for you. Looking for some ideas on how to incorporate brain-healthy foods? Read through this post on foods that help your brain AND heart health.
- Quit smoking & avoid second-hand smoke
Not only is smoking bad for physical health, but studies link smoking and even second-hand smoke to neurological effects. There are more than 50 toxic chemicals in cigarettes, the long-term build-up of which can cause memory loss and learning deficits. Unfortunately, long-term second-hand or “passive” smoking (being exposed to smoke regularly) has been associated with the same problems as actually smoking. Smoking has also been associated with the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which holds functions such as language, memory, and perception. The good news? A study showed that individuals who quit smoking reversed these changes.
- Wear a helmet
Having a healthy brain means doing what you can to avoid direct trauma to your head. And while it may seem obvious, many adults don’t wear helmets when they should. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in preventing head injuries, yet only 18 percent of all bicyclists wear them. Even a seemingly mild head injury could result in a concussion or worse, which can cause memory loss, confusion, and difficulty focusing. It’s important to wear a helmet whether it’s taking a quick bike ride around town, riding a motorcycle, or doing other activities in which there is potential for a fall, such as climbing.
- Exercise your brain
Just as staying active is an important part of physical health, keeping the brain active plays a role in maintaining brain health. Brain “exercise” doesn’t have to be boring! There are a variety of leisure activities that also give the brain a workout. According to the National Institute on Aging, reading, participating in a hobby, or even engaging socially with friends and family can help keep the brain stimulated. Some studies suggest puzzles may also be a way to keep the mind active and potentially promote brain function. Switching up your routine and learning a new skill or activity are other ways to keep the brain alert. Head over to our post on staying healthy through fun and games to learn more.
- Get enough sleep
It is widely recommended that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for optimal health, yet the CDC reports that almost one-third are not regularly getting that amount. Sleep plays a very important role in brain function. Lack of sleep interrupts important processes and communication between parts of the brain responsible for forming memories and learning. It can also alter the behavior of normal brain cells. For a restful night of sleep, reduce your caffeine intake as the day goes on and turn electronics off at least an hour prior to going to bed. Taking a hot shower or bath can also prepare your body for a good night of sleep. For more tips and the science behind sleep, check out this post.
- Lower your stress level
Stress is a normal part of life. But when stress becomes a chronic condition, there are a variety of effects on the body – including the brain. Chronic stress creates a hormonal imbalance that alters how neurons in the brain connect with each other. This can cause changes in cognitive function, including learning and memory ability. Chronic stress has also been associated with cortical volume loss and a higher risk of stroke. It is possible to reduce stress and minimize the damage it causes. Studies show that meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep can help counteract the effects of stress.
It’s important to treat your brain health as you treat your physical health, but the good news is that much of what you can do for your brain helps your physical health, too. Try these strategies to start working on both!
And if your loved one is suffering from a brain-related condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s, we’d love to be of assistance. Many of our caregivers are specifically trained to help those suffering from these conditions. Check out our Dementia Specialty Program and get in touch if you’d like to talk with a client service specialist about your specific situation.
- Health Brains – Cleveland Clinic
- 4 Things That Happen to Your Brain When You’re Stressed – The Healthy
- How Smoking Damages Mind as Well as Body – Newsweek.
- 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep – CDC
- Cognitive Health and Older Adults – National Institute on Aging
- Bicycle Helmet Key Facts – U.S. Dept. of Transportation