10 Best Ways To Boost Your Brain - for Good
Brain food has never been more important.
Our brains have still got a lot of hard work and heavy lifting to do for us. Best we take good care of them. Let’s give them the food and stimulation they deserve. And it’s not really that hard to do.
The stats are out and they’re not too friendly. The Altzheimer’s Society says that 1 in 80 of the entire UK population suffers from this disease. In the population aged 65 and over, it’s 1 in 14.
Alzheimers, It’s A worry!
According to Alzheimer’s Research USA, what’s even more disconcerting, is that women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to just a 1 in 11 chance for men.
Ladies, it’s time to put on our big girl panties and deal with this.
Happily, some of the ways to keep this major muscle of ours flexed are not that difficult – some are actually quite fun. So let’s dive right in.
Because it turns out that there are loads of things we can do to give our brain food for our best life – and keep our mind sharp at any age – and as we age.
The number of people with dementia is steadily increasing. We believe that careful planning is needed.
– Alzheimer’s Society
Let's HIT it
Ok, let’s get this one up first and out of the way. Exercise may not be high on everyone’s agenda but the research is overwhelming. It just IS good for you. A healthy mind in a healthy body is as true today as it was for our great-great-great grandparents.
A study at McMaster University showed that short bursts of HIT (High Intensity Training) over a six week period provided great health benefits, AND it improved memory. Surprise, surprise!
HIT is defined as a form of interval training, it’s a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short bursts of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until you are too exhausted to continue. It’s good if you’re into it.
Other researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine discovered indisputable links between higher physical endurance and boosted working memory. Who knew?
Various other studies show that it’s even more important to be physically active after 50 (than when you’re younger). Be mindful when you move and just keep moving.
Go Big or Go Slow
Although there aren’t enough large clinical trials with scientific evidence, there is much experiential evidence that shows more gentle, focused exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi do much to improve mental abilities and acuity.
According to Dawn Addison, a licensed physical therapist and certified Tai Chi instructor at INTEGRIS, one of the top 25 healthcare systems in the USA, Tai Chi has a bouquet of wonderful benefits for the body and mind:
- Improves flexibility, strength and endurance
- Increases cardiovascular health
- Decreases incidence of falls
- Improves balance
- Decreases pain
- Increases bone density
- Provides relaxation
- Helps manage stress
- Decreases anxiety and depression
- Improves sleep quality
- Decreases blood pressure
- Increases functional fitness so you can be more independent
Now, who doesn’t want some or all of that?
Get into yoga
It’s one of the oldest exercise forms around and for good reason. The NHS defines yoga as “an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing.”
According to Netdoctor UK, just 15 minutes of Yoga every day will:
- Improve your flexibility, strength, and posture
- Give you better all-round fitness
- Help with weight loss
- Boost your energy levels
- Reduce your stress
- Allow you to breathe better
- Make you happier
- Let you become more mindful
- Improve your concentration and make you think clearer
- Help you to live longer (and live your best life!)
Every single one is a winner!
Walk the walk
Whether you take the dogs for a daily stroll or you prefer long rambles over the weekends, walking is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
It’s simple, it’s free and it’s one of the easiest things to do. Even a brisk 10-minute walk a day will help you:
- Become more active
- Lose weight
- Become healthier
- Build bone density
- Improve your heart health and circulation
- Enhance your mood (Cheers to that – walking was the single biggest help when I quit smoking)
There are loads of apps about that will count your steps and calories burned, or even help you plan your route. There are also loads of walking and hiking clubs you could join to keep things fresh and interesting.
Dance, Dance, Dance
I personally know some ladies of 60 plus who have started or or have taken up ballet again. What a beautiful way to a better mind and body?
Dancing offers so many genres from Ballroom to Modern to Disco to HipHop to Latin American to Line Dancing to Freestyle and everything in between. Whether you do it for fun or professionally, dancing is getting more recognition as being a terrific way to keep dementia at bay (surely you’ve seen those videos of 80 or 90 somethings showing off their moves on social media?).
Harvard University’s article about dancing and the brain mentions how a neuroscientist at Columbia says dancing is a “pleasure double play.” Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits, requiring complex mental coordination.
Double whammy. We always knew dancing was fun. Now we know it’s therapy, too. Of the most pleasurable kind.
Meditate for mindfulness
Another well-known neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, at the University of Wisconsin in America says: “Mindfulness is about being fully aware in the present moment. It’s about bringing our attention back to the present moment and not getting carried away by our thoughts.”
The four main constituents of well-being he raises here are:
- Resilience – how to recover quickly from adversity
- Savour positive emotions – and yes, you can train your mind to do this!
- Attention – focus can be educated. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” – Buddhists call this “monkey mind.” If it’s really severe, squirrel mind!
- Generocity – being kind to others. Cultivating this circuit of your brain is one of the best ways you can get positive and stay that way. It’s absolutely free, yet it’s priceless!
Now that’s what I call living your best life!
Meditation is recognised as the go-to medication for mindfulness. There are times when life happens and you feel like a rowing boat bobbing adrift in a tropical storm. Listening to meditation recordings has pulled me through some of the darkest days.
A free app I enjoy is Let’s Meditate. It’s available on Google Play. You can download meditations for many occasions and favourite your best ones for replays. It’s also a great way to drift off to sleep …
Sleep like a baby
A good night’s sleep is essential for the body to rest and renew itself. The benefits of a healthy sleep pattern can’t be stressed enough.
According to scientists at Hopkins Medicine, not enough sleep can make us unable to process what we’ve learned during the day and able to remember it in the future. They believe that sleep promotes the removal of waste products from brain cells – something that doesn’t happen efficiently when we’re awake.
A lack of sleep can result in serious health risks – depression, seizures, high blood pressure and migraines. Your immune system will be knocked for a loop, putting you at risk of infection and illness. It can also mess seriously with your metabolism: even one night of no sleep can cause a prediabetic state in a normally healthy person.
Clearly – there’s much, much more than just beauty sleep at play?
The magic of music
Do you remember hearing a favourite song for the first time in ages? Instantly, a flood of memories return.
Music is archetypal and primeval. It resounds with our spirits and our souls, whether its uplifting choral music or good old rock and roll or mindful beta-wave music for focus and study, there is music to match every mood and occasion.
Recent studies proved that music has a powerful (and visible) effect on the brain. Listening to music that you enjoy will improve your sleep patterns, lower your stress levels, raise your sense of well-being and lift your mood.
Whether it’s Bach, Beatles, Bono, Bacharach or Beyoncé. Music will give you brain food for your best life.
Sex it up
Having frequent sex is excellent brain food. It makes you fitter, healthier, less stressed, with a better immune system and lowered high blood pressure. A study in 2016 revealed that older people who led active sex lives scored better in cognitive function and mental well-being.
That’s over and above the emotional and health benefits that intimacy and good sex has to offer.
The good fats
The fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are essential for healthy brain function and development, whatever your age.
Omega-3 is found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel and fish oils, and flaxseed and chia seeds. Common sources of omega-6 are sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, peanut butter and eggs.
The earlier you start to take these essential oils, the healthier you’ll be. Once the brain is deprived of these vital nutrients and begins to shrink, the damage is irreversible. So stock up today.
The Last Word
After all that, it sounds like good sex, drugs (the healthy kind, like cod-liver oil) and rock and roll (dance moves) really are the way to go to live your best life. Better.
What do you think is the most important thing you need to do right now to keep your brain firing on all cylinders? Please let me know in the comments below.