Until recent years, it was believed that once brain cells were gone, they were gone forever. The good news is, research has proven that the brain is “plastic”– that it can indeed generate new cells. Extensive research has also begun on what can be done to keep the brain healthy and ward off age related mental impairment. Here are 15 easy ways to get and keep your brain in tip-top shape.
1. Brush and Floss Your Teeth
That’s right—something as simple and easy as brushing and flossing your teeth every morning and night helps your brain. Why? Poor oral health has been linked to decreased cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that the bacteria in your mouth can travel throughout the bloodstream causing damage to other organs, including the brain. The Alzheimer’s Association revealed data at a recent conference that showed that people with missing teeth and gum disease at an early age increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by fivefold.
2. Eat Plenty of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The brain requires cholesterol to function, and Omega 3 fatty acids are a source of good cholesterol. Specifically, Omega 3s help improve memory and learning abilities. Omega 3s can be found in oily cold-water fish, such as sardines and salmon, kiwis, flaxseed, and many nut oils. You can also find capsule and liquid supplements at your health food store.
Good news for the talkative types—socializing keeps you sharp longer in life. A major public health study of more than 116,000 participants found that people with strong social networks and relationships aged better. The rationale behind the data is that people are unpredictable, so engaging with others on a regular basis exercises the mind.
4. Play Games
Games, specifically brain games, are a fun and easy way to stimulate the mind. Different games stimulate different parts of the brain, so for best results play a variety of games that challenge you in different ways. Brain games include chess, crossword puzzles, sudoku, Ken Ken, bridge, puzzles, and Memory. Many companies are now producing games and software specifically designed for brain fitness, as well. Nintendo’s Brain Age, Mind Fit, and Posit Science are just a few.
5. Learn Something New
Learning something new stimulates the brain better than anything else. Try to learn something new every day, even if it is only a new word.
6. Eat Well
Good and proper nutrition will help ensure your brain receives all the vital nutrients. A diet high in whole grains, fiber, fruits, vegetables, and monounsaturated fat is recommended to optimize brain fitness. Good brain foods include: brown rice, rolled oats, beans, peas, olive oil, avocados, blueberries, sweet potatoes, nuts, salmon, spinach, and flaxseed, to name a few.
7. Think Happy Thoughts
Stress management is vital to a healthy brain, as stress literally destroys brain cells. The memory is especially affected by negative emotions. The hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls memory and deals with emotions, loses synapses and connections when subject to stress.
8. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Sleep deprivation exacerbates the progression of Alzheimer’s, according to a study conducted by Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. When awake, a protein similar in plaque accumulates in the brain. This protein significantly decreases while sleeping, however. Scientists believe that adequate sleep could limit or even block the formation of this protein.
9. Work Out
Physical exercise isn’t just for the body anymore, it’s for the brain, too! Cardiovascular exercise influences the rate at which new neurons are created. Physical exercise specifically leads to the creation of new brain cells in the dentate, an area of the brain associated with memory formation.
10. Bulk up on Bs
B Vitamins, that is, and especially B-12. Low levels of Vitamin B-12 have been associated with brain shrinkage, cognitive decline, and dementia. B-12 is primarily found in animal products, such as meat and cheese, so if you’re a vegetarian, make sure to take a supplement.
11. Maintain Iron Levels
People with low iron levels often suffer from a decrease in memory.
12. Drink Red Wine
Red wine contains a flavanoid called resveratrol. Resveratrol has been shown to reduce the risk of age related cognitive disease, including Alzheimer’s. Resveratrol is also an anti-inflammatory that decreases the risk of various cancers and heart disease. Other flavanoids include green tea and dark chocolate.
13. An Apple a Day
Apples contain acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s important to the function of memory. Apples raise the body’s level of acetylcholine.
14. Take Brain Boosting Herbs
Many herbs are powerful brain boosters. (Before taking any herb for the first time, please consult your physician, however.) Brain boosting herbs include Gingko Biloba, which stimulates the blood flow to the brain; Ginseng, which protects against the effects of stress, as well as boosting energy; and Rosemary, which improves memory, concentration, and mental clarity.
15. Avoid Brain “Pollutants”
Studies suggest that air pollution and pesticides could lead to cognitive decline and disease. While hard to avoid, the following everyday pollutants that people can stay away from include:
• acetaminophen—depletes an important antioxidant that protects the brain
• antacids—inhibits the absorption of B-12
• mercury—reduces the brain’s ability to respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine