Your brain is a complex organ responsible for every single idea, decision, or action that you take. While the brain isn’t quite a muscle like the heart, it’s important to “work it out” and keep it “fit” to help keep it functioning at its best.
Most of us are getting plenty of mental stimulation each day, but there are simple ways to amp up your brainpower to keep your mind healthy and sharp. Here are some of our favorites.
Why Is Brain Health So Important?
While we’re huge fans of the kidneys, lungs, and other organs (shoutout to you, too, spleen), your brain is still arguably the most valuable organ in your entire body. Having holistic brain health underlies your ability to make decisions, communicate, form relationships, be productive, and problem solve.
Additionally, keeping a healthy brain might be able to reduce your risk of cognitive decline with age. Disorders like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia affect 55 million people worldwide, making it one of the prominent diseases affecting older adults.
And while there isn’t a magic pill that can prevent or reverse it, taking steps now can help to keep your mind in check and fortify yourself against the negative effects of an aging brain. This can help you create and retain memories for longer, while also allowing you to manage your self-esteem and confidence in ways you’ll grow to appreciate as the years pass by.
Plus, the benefits of a sharp mind aren’t limited to aging brains — exercising your brain now and learning how to put that brain power to good use can help increase focus and productivity that can benefit you in both work and play.
Speaking of play, let’s talk about some fun ways to support brain health.
Brain Games for Brain Health
There’s this thing called neuroplasticity, and it’s your brain’s ability to make new connections in response to learning and stimulation. Sort of like how your muscles tear down and build back up during physical exercise, your brain does something similar when confronted with new stimuli it needs to learn to adapt to.
This process is what keeps your mind adaptable, and it turns out, doing sudoku puzzles, playing guitar, or speaking Japanese can help stimulate it.
That said, the repetitive nature of doing a word search every day might make you better at word searches, but it won’t enhance neuroplasticity. Instead, you need to step outside of your comfort zone to challenge yourself with new skills and talents.
If you do a crossword puzzle every day, why not start challenging your brain with some sudoku instead? Better yet, spend some time trying to learn a new language, or learn how to play an instrument.
New learning leads to brain health, and it can improve structures in the brain to keep performing at their best for longer.
Keep Your Eyes on Exercise
Mind games are great for brain health, but what you do with your physical body is just as important. Sure, your brain can’t do pull-ups or tricep extensions – but these exercises can still have amply positive effects on your mental wellbeing.
Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and it can also improve both your cognitive and mental health. Aerobic exercises like jogging, cycling, and swimming have been proven to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s thought that this is due to exercise-induced increases in blood circulation to the brain.
But even more so, physical activity can help control your weight and tone your muscles. This increases self-confidence and self-esteem, which can have positive benefits for your mental and emotional wellness overall, which play a bigger role in a sharp mind than you may think.
And if the thought of going to the gym causes you more stress than it’s worth, don’t worry – exercise can take many forms. Try going for a hike with friends, taking a group fitness class, or going dancing to get your body moving without it feeling like a chore.
Be Mindful of Your Nutrition
They say you are what you eat, and when it comes to your brain health, this really couldn’t be more accurate.
Over time, your brain becomes subject to something called oxidative stress, which is basically a kind of cellular damage that can happen as a result of not having enough antioxidants in your body to keep harmful molecules (called free radicals) in check.
Thankfully, there are loads of foods that are rich in antioxidants, which can fight back against free radicals and oxidative stress. These are often the same foods that also work to counteract high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and offer other benefits, making them a highly beneficial component of your diet.
Antioxidant-rich foods linked to better brain power include:
- Leafy greens
- Fatty fish
- Coffee and tea
- Whole grains
These foods are high in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin D3, and more.
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Sleep It Off
Using all of these tips and tricks to keep your mind sharp is essential as you go about your day, but how you treat your brain at night is equally important. Even though sleep might seem like a time when your mind goes entirely blank and shuts off for a few hours, your brain is actually incredibly active as you catch some zzzs.
Recent findings suggest that, when you sleep, your brain removes toxins that build up while you are awake. It is a complex process that plays a vital role in your mood throughout the day.
It has also been found that not getting enough sleep increases the risk of dementia. In fact, a study found that individuals over the age of 50 who get less than six hours of sleep per night were 30% more likely to develop dementia compared to those who slept for seven hours or more.
Not to mention, your focus and cognitive agility exponentially go down with each night you don’t get enough sleep. While a lot of us can get away with losing a few hours one night because of a deadline or a night out with friends, cognitive performance starts to seriously drop after a few nights of not getting enough hours.
If you’re struggling to get the right amount of sleep each night, consider turning off your electronics at least half an hour before hitting the hay. The light from your screen can trick your body into thinking it is still daytime. Also, try to de-stress and unwind before bed by using calming essential oils, reading a good book, or practicing some deep breathing exercises.
Being stressed shrinks the brain – seriously. It’s been found that chronic stress can cause areas of the brain associated with memory and emotions to get physically smaller. So, that means it’s important to deal with stress however possible to ensure that it doesn’t become a normal, everyday thing.
Meditation is a fantastic way to do that. Meditation is all about being aware of your surroundings and being in tune with your thoughts and feelings. For some people, meditation is as simple as practicing deep breathing techniques at home or at work. But for others, you might need a more structured form of meditation like Tai Chi or yoga.
Regardless, taking some time for yourself is a great way to keep your mind sharp and your mood in check. Plus, it can help you de-stress and de-clutter your mind to help you focus on what matters most.
Keeping your mind sharp isn’t just important for being able to solve crosswords or play video games – certain brain-exercising techniques can also be important for defending yourself as best you can against neurodegenerative disorders like dementia later on in life.
Playing brain games and mentally stimulating your synapses by learning new things is one of the best ways to increase neuroplasticity. But you can also bring about a ton of amazing benefits for your noggin by exercising regularly and feeding your body nutritious foods and drinks that support brain health.
While it’s fun to stay active, it’s also just as important to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Getting at least six hours of sleep a night, as well as meditating, are essential for giving your brain the time it needs to recuperate and heal.
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