The Path to a Healthy Brain: How to Keep Your Memory Sharp
For those who are health-oriented, maximizing the well-being and efficiency of every part of the body becomes a big goal. Endeavoring to do so isn’t an easy feat, of course, and takes a lot of research (which is why we focus our blog on health hacks, including the best ways to keep your eyes healthy and whether or not you should incorporate cold showers into your daily routine).
But while many health gurus like to focus on their physical health, it’s important to remember that the brain is still a part of the body and deserves just as much attention. As people age, cognitive function tends to gradually slow down. Memories lapse, awareness decreases, and reaction times reduce. Maintaining a healthy noggin can keep an elderly person spry and attentive for a longer, happier, and more sociable life.
Nevertheless, taking care of your brain is quite a bit different than working your muscles or eating a balanced diet (although those practices certainly contribute). If you’re interested in keeping your brain healthy and your cognitive abilities sharp, you’re in the right place! Read on.
What is Considered a Healthy Brain?
How do you know if your brain is healthy or unhealthy to begin with?
Simply defined, a healthy brain receives good blood flow in order to receive information from our five senses and respond to those stimuli. It is also capable of thinking clearly, organizing thoughts, remembering details, and controlling emotions. A healthy brain is spatially aware, able to maintain focus, and cognitively present in the here and now.
On the other hand, a brain that is unhealthy is generally slow to react to sensory stimuli, unable to organize thoughts efficiently, has memory problems, and cannot properly regulate emotions, amongst other drawbacks. Unhealthy brains can be easily distracted and unable to discern reality from thoughts, memories, and ideas.
Debilitating conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease severely hurt the brain’s memory and function. While both can develop naturally in older people through genetics and poor lifestyles, some studies have shown that aluminum may have negative impacts on the brain. Although further studies bore inconclusive results on the matter (leading to much controversy), a recent study in 2021 indicates the association is likely to be correct.
How Can I Train My Brain?
Good cognitive function stems from challenging and engaging your brain in difficult tasks. The idea is to strengthen brain tissue and neurological links by training them, similar to how you might lift weights to train different muscles. Your brain will naturally grow and become more proficient as you age, but eventually, its abilities will wane, meaning you’ll want to make it as strong as possible so its health lasts considerably longer in the face of cognitive decline and memory loss.
One of the best activities to practice for brain health isn’t actually an activity as much as a way of living: the continual learning of new things.
Harvard University indicates that learning new activities is one of the best ways to hone your neurological skills. The influx of new stimuli and unfamiliar challenges forces your brain to focus and engage much more than with an activity you already understand. Learning a new skill (like a new language, hobby, or craft) tests your brain’s ability to process new information and translate it into the appropriate responses. Basically, fast learners are people who likely possess a wide variety of skills they picked up throughout their lives—they have learned to “learn” more efficiently thanks to a healthy brain.
Additionally, another study discovered the importance of taking breaks from learning a new activity in terms of brain health. It turns out that after intense engagement with something new, our brains consolidate and “replay” the engagement many times over during wakeful rest in an effort to strengthen the neurological connections, leading to a better grasp of the activity as well as better retainment and memory. For example, if you are learning how to knit and take a 15-minute break from your threads every hour or so, you might find better proficiency after each return than if you knitted for hours on end and slept on it for the night.
Other brain training options include puzzles and problem-solving games that entertain your mind while forcing it to work hard. These activities prep the brain to deal with more complex challenges that might appear in your day-to-day life and have the direct benefit of preserving good cognitive function. Crossword puzzles, word searches, sudoku, and other small brain games are excellent for passing the time and strengthening your cognition simultaneously, particularly for older adults.
Don’t forget the power of reading, either; a good book will keep your brain sharp and engaged for the duration of your read, not even to mention the potential to learn new things through guides, textbooks, and literature. In fact, reading stories has been demonstrated to improve creativity and overall brain function.
What Else Can I Do for a Healthy Brain?
Direct stimulation and brainpower isn’t the only thing you should do for good brain health. There are many forms of indirect stimulation and mental care that go a long way to preserving the wellbeing of your memories and thoughts.
Loads of research have indicated that physical activity and exercising can directly strengthen the brain. If you aren’t already exercising and want to keep your brain in tip-top shape, some regular cardio and muscle training for a healthy lifestyle can do wonders for your mental capabilities. Receiving enough sleep (roughly 7-8 hours of sleep for adults) is also imperative to refresh your brain each day.
Likewise, eating a healthy diet is also imperative to a healthy brain. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish) and antioxidants (like dark chocolate and berries) promote better blood flow to the brain for optimal cognitive function.
Finally, mental health and mindfulness is extremely important for your brain and quality of life. After all, a brain that is constantly stressed, depressed, or unhappy will ultimately work poorly and deteriorate quickly. If you suffer from bouts of unwelcome thoughts, try adjusting your daily schedule, prioritizing positive social interactions, making time to meditate, or setting specific times to relax. All of these activities can dramatically improve the clarity of your mind and result in a healthier, longer-lasting brain.
Remember: your brain affects your entire body. But likewise, your entire body affects your brain, too. To take care of your brain, take care of your overall physical and mental health. Eat well, exercise, stay hydrated, and practice mindfulness. Memories are priceless—keep them alive!