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This week is International Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign that aims to increase awareness of the benefits of brain research.
It’s also the perfect time to look at how your lifestyle might be affecting all that grey matter.
While you probably know that brain health is important, you might not know what you can do to improve it.
So with that said, here are our top 10 tips for a better, healthier brain.
1. Stimulate your mind
There’s a reason crossword magazines keep lining the shelves of your local newsagency.
Mentally stimulating activities help your brain build new cells and strengthen connections, and working on something particularly challenging can kick things up a notch.
2. Sleep well
Getting the right amount of shut eye is so important.
While you’re conscious self might be on standby, your brain is not. There’s a lot going on while you’re dozed off, and many believe that dreams are a way for our brains to make sense of a day’s information.
On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re probably not performing at your peak. Sleep deprivation can interfere with hormone production and forming memories, so to stay at your best make sure you rest!
3. Manage your stress
We can’t stress this one enough!
Chronic stress can result in an overproduction of myelin (the insulating layer around your nerves) and the hormone cortisol, changing your brain structure and triggering stem cells to malfunction.
While it’s sometimes hard to avoid stressful situations, it’s important to have a plan to help manage and reduce your stress levels. This could include relaxation techniques, learning to say no or keeping a stress diary.
4. Work your body
Everyone’s always banging on about exercise. But as it turns out, it’s not just good for keeping you in shape – it’s good for your brain, too.
A study of women aged 70 to 81 found that exercise was associated with better cognitive performance. Compared to women who didn’t exercise, the active ladies had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment.
5. Have a healthy diet
Focus on eating real, whole foods.
Dementia Australia recommends a diet high in unsaturated fats (found in fish and olive oil), fruit, vegetables, lean meats and legumes, while avoiding the bad fats found in processed pastries, cakes or fried foods.
Fish and walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps promote the growth of new brain cells and plays a role in learning and memory. Berries, tomatoes, kidney beans and oranges are also natural antioxidants that act against inflammation and help improve brain cell communication.
A better diet paired with physical activity will in turn improve your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, which are all instrumental in maximising your brain health.
6. Avoid smoking
Quitting smoking improves most aspects of your health, including brain health.
In a study of over 500 current smokers, former smokers and non-smokers, brain scans revealed that current and former smokers had a thinner cortex – the part of your brain responsible for memory, language and perception.
Although the cortex does grow thinner with age, smoking appears to accelerate it.
The good news? Quitting can help restore thickness in the cortex – slowly, but surely.
7. Stay social
Connecting with your community and saying yes to social activities is associated with a lower risk of dementia.
If you’re more of a bookworm than a social butterfly, you could join a book club and get the best of both worlds. Or, you could go on a guided tour of your city, have a regular restaurant dinner with friends or simply talk to animals if no one else is around.
8. Keep learning
Whoever said you can’t teach old dogs new tricks was totally wrong.
Just because you finished school ages ago, doesn’t mean you can’t keep learning.
Research has found that everyday forms of learning set off neuron receptors that help keep your brain cells performing at their best. This process is also linked to theta rhythms – learning-related brain rhythms that play a vital role in encoding new memories.
9. Switch things up
The brain isn't too keen on routine.
Surprise it every once in a while by turning off auto-pilot and taking a new route.
If you have a monotonous job, challenge yourself with different things in your down time. If you always drive, take the bike. Or if you’re right handed, try writing or eating with your left hand and see how that goes!
10. Care for yourself
All of the above can be summed up with one simple tip: self-care.
Talk to someone. Put good stuff in your body. Rest. Relax. Don’t isolate yourself. Get outside and soak up some Vitamin D.
According to research, depression can physically change your brain, so prioritising your health through self-care strategies should always be at the top of your agenda.
To learn more about our research initiatives at Brightwater, click here.