Several studies clearly show that physical activity contributes to enhanced mental health as well as maintaining a “younger” brain. However, by strictly focusing on physical forms of exercise, we tend to forget the merits of cognitive, or brain, exercises.
Boost Your Brain Health
Research continues to indicate we can develop our brains much like we do our body’s muscles. The more we exercise our brains—through cognitive exercises—the more our brains change, grow and fend off neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Neurologists assert brain exercises can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 70 percent. Here are eight strategies for improving the brain’s neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to alter its activity to better adjust to environmental or situational changes:
- Boost your vocabulary by learning a new word each day.
- Change up your routines—Take a different route to work, hand write rather than type and read instead of watching TV.
- Complete tasks using your nondominant hand. This requires you to use the less dominant side of your brain, strengthening it over time.
- Do a logical activity, such as a crossword or Sudoku puzzle.
- Improve your memory by playing a memorization game and getting enough sleep.
- Learn a new language, instrument or hobby.
- Play board or computer games. Both require the development of strategies and critical thinking and can enhance your executive functioning skills.
- Use brain-boosting apps on your computer, smartphone or tablet.
Whatever activities you use to sharpen your cognitive skills, the key is to participate in those that hold your attention and require use of more than one of your senses.
Food for Thought
Studies increasingly illustrate a direct correlation between a healthy diet and good mental health. A Mediterranean diet, in particular, is especially beneficial to our physical and mental health. This diet—consisting primarily of fish, fruits, nuts and vegetables—provides our bodies and brains with essential nutrients. These vitamins and minerals improve our concentration, give us energy and even boost our moods. Aim for a diet that includes the following essential nutrients:
- Folic acid—This B vitamin is a manmade form of folate, which helps our bodies create healthy new cells. It’s commonly found in breads, breakfast cereals, cornmeal, flours, pastas and white rice.
- Iron—This essential mineral is crucial to the development of our brains and nervous systems. Eating an iron-rich diet helps fend off neurological disorders, such as mood disorders and various developmental problems.
- Omega-3 fatty acids—This particular nutrient is most commonly found in fish and may help keep the brain from shrinking with age. Some studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids may also help those suffering from depression.
- Vitamin B-12—This water-soluble vitamin is essential to our neurological function and red blood cell production. Some research reports vitamin B-12 to be helpful in combating depression by boosting our moods, similarly to omega-3 fatty acids. Found in high volumes in cooked clams and beef livers, vitamin B-12 can also be found in a number of other foods or vitamin supplements. Ask your doctor if vitamin B-12 supplements are appropriate for you.
Increase your intake of these essential nutrients by eating healthy snack foods rich in these vitamins while completing brain-boosting exercises.
For more information about the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine, visit PorterHealth.com or call (219) 983-8310.