No-Brainer Tips for a Healthier Brain
We all have reason to keep our brains as sharp as possible. Humans are living longer and some of us are reaching well beyond age 100. We want those 100 plus years to be long, active years with working minds. Working minds have the power to create. I love Muhammad Ali’s quote, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.” And, it’s true! So in honor of creation and intelligence and long life, let’s delve into the topic of brain health.
Unfortunately, keeping our brains healthy can be tough because deterioration in the brain can begin very early, in a person’s twenties. The brain becomes smaller; the volume decreases. The layer covering nerves and neurons, called the myelin sheath, loses its integrity. The cortex of the brain begins to thin. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, acetylcholine, and dopamine send signals much less efficiently. In addition, you can accumulate proteins in the brain called neurofibrillary tangles. These tangles lead to forgetfulness, a decreased ability to maintain focus, and difficulty solving problems.
The first signs of brain deterioration are forgetting where you put your keys or your cell phone. You forget names, even the names of your close friends, grandchildren, or pets. You forget vocabulary words. You miss appointments. Or the one that gets me: walking into a room and then forgetting why you walked there.
It can start to affect your life, waste your time, make you feel depressed but this is the least of it. If left unchecked, these symptoms can progress into dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, about a quarter of all people over the age of 65 have mild cognitive impairment, which can lead to dementia, and about 1/6 of those with dementia develop Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2030, about 8 million Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That’s all the people in the five boroughs of NYC! That is a lot of Americans affected by this disease, and think of the ripple of the millions of family members affected, not just emotionally, but financially as well.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do to prevent this. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating vegetables and fruits, eating good fats like olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, avocado, walnuts, and fish, exercising, maintain an easygoing, low-stress emotional state, meditation and prayer always contributes to healthier brain. Even more exciting is that fairly recent research shows that our brains can grow brand new cells throughout adulthood; this is called neurogenesis. (Previous theories had stated that once brain cells died, there was no coming back.) Furthermore, research has found that the brain has a life-long capacity to learn new skills, absorb new information, create new memories, and even create new neurons. Neurons can grow and connect with unused neurons, or around areas of damage. The brain can heal and adjust after experiencing disease or injury. Scientists call this neuroplasticity.
The ticket to neuroplasticity -- growing, healing, and maintaining our brains – is to stretch them by doing a sort of calisthenics of the brain. Everyday use of your brain is not enough. Try out some new patterns. Think something different. Get into someone else’s shoes. These activities are examples of ways that you can stretch and heal your brain. You may discover that exercising your brain is a whole lot of fun.
Click here for a beautiful free handout with a list of brain exercises to get you started. I promise you, that if you rotate daily between five of these activities consistently, you may add years on the life of your brain. There are even more ways to stretch your brain that are not on this list. Do you have any suggestions? Please write them in the comment section below. If you would like to share your experience of trying one of these activities, let us hear about that, too.