The human brain weighs a mere 3 pounds but is the most complex organ in the body. The brain controls voluntary and involuntary motor activity, language production and comprehension, visual reception and interpretation, personality, judgment, emotions, memory, and so much more. The brain is the command center in our body, and as we age, brain function tends to slow down. We may show signs of memory loss, slower reflexes and coordination, and confusion; however, aging is just one cause of slower brain function. The follow tips will help you maintain a healthy brain.
- Reduce Stress
Stress is a negative experience that can be physical, mental, emotional, or environmental. Stress produces the release of the hormone cortisol which is a stress hormone that regulates blood sugar, metabolism, and influences memory formation. Cortisol in short durations has a positive effect; however, prolonged release of cortisol from ongoing stress may lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, muscle weakness, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Stress can be reduced by incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Practices such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, journaling, and daily meditation help reduce stress and improve brain function. Meditation is a great way to start your day off right.
- Reduce Exposure to Brain Toxins and Chemicals
It is unfortunate that we live in a society filled with toxins, including the food we eat, the water we drink, the shampoo we use, the medications we take, and the air we breathe. It is nearly impossible to eliminate all toxins from our lives; however, we can take measures to reduce heavy metals and toxins from our bodies.
Overuse of medications, including antibiotics, can disrupt our bodies’ ecosystems by killing off the good bacteria and other organisms that keeps us healthy. There is a strong correlation between gut health and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other chronic and life-limiting illnesses including autoimmune diseases. If medications are a necessity, using pre- and probiotics to balance the body’s ecosystem is recommended, along with a well-balanced diet free from toxins.
Depending on where you live, your water may contribute to brain and body toxins. It is recommended that you filter your water for optimum benefits. Additionally, eating organic food helps reduce exposure to toxic chemicals found in pesticides.
- Eat Healthy
Your brain functions according to the nutrients that it receives from the food that you eat. Therefore, depriving yourself of certain nutrients may have adverse effects on the functioning of your brain. Unfortunately, this is the case with many people who rely on the standard American diet, referred to as “SAD,” as food such as processed, packaged, and fast foods have little nutritional value.
The biggest culprits in our diet that keeps our bodies and brains unhealthy are sugar, sweeteners of any form, and flour. These are in many foods we eat, particularly processed foods, and contribute to inflammation in our body. Foods claiming to be low or no fat actually replace the fat with sugar to make them taste better. Fat, specifically healthy fat, does not make you fat. Sugar makes you fat, which contributes to inflammation and an unhealthy brain.
When possible, consider organic food products to reduce toxins in your diet. The Environmental Work Group at www.ewg.org, provides many resources to help you and your family reduce environmental toxins. The organization is known for their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 guides to pesticides in produce.
- Get Plenty of Sleep
Our bodies need to rest and require a good night’s sleep for healthy brain function. It is recommended that we have at least 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. If getting to sleep or staying asleep is a problem, consider starting an evening calming practice. Schedule 30-minutes at the end of your day to include the following bedtime calming ritual before you lay down for the night.
a) Turn off all electronic devices, including televisions, cell phones, computers, tablets, and anything with a screen at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The lights in electronic devices trick our brains into thinking it is daytime and contribute to issues with insomnia.
b) Treat yourself to an organic herbal tea with chamomile or valerian root. You can find loose leaf tea or tea bags that may include other herbs in your local grocery store.
c) Include 15 – 20 minutes of meditation or yoga to help relax your brain and help you sleep.
d) Complete your day by making an entry into a gratitude journal. Adding at least three things for which you are grateful, helps bring about a sense of peace and calm before you lay down for your good night’s sleep.
e) Consider using essential oils and diffuse lavender oil on your nightstand. Lavender oil is calming and can be used as a sleep aid. You can also place a few drops of lavender oil in the palms of your hands, cup your palms and inhale the oil. This is useful if you do not have a diffuser or want the full effect of the oil. You may then rub the lavender oil on the bottoms of your feet before bedtime for additional benefits. Lavender is known for its therapeutic calming properties.
Two types of exercise to help brain function are physical and mental. There are several types of exercises used for brain health. Interval training such as sprinting or martial arts help enhance focus, and exercises such as tai chi and yoga help with balance and coordination. Cardiovascular exercise, swimming, yoga, and outdoor activities such as hiking or cycling help calm the mind, whereas aerobic exercises help with mood disorders. As with any physical exercise, it is always advised to consult your physician before starting a new exercise program.
Mental exercise to keep your brain active is also essential for brain health. Mental exercises may include playing brain games or doing puzzles, learning something new, such as a foreign language, craft, or skill, reading, or learning to write with your non-dominant hand which stimulates different areas of your brain.
- Protect Your Brain
Protecting your brain from injury is essential to brain health. Trauma to the brain disrupts normal brain function and may increase your risk of dementia down the road. Simple ways of protecting your brain include wearing a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle, and wearing a seatbelt in the car. Additionally, taking steps to prevent falls include making sure your home and work areas are free from clutter and things that may cause you to trip.
- Refrain From Cigarette Smoking
Cigarette smoking affects the flow of blood throughout your body. The reduced blood flow to your brain means reduced oxygen. Reduced oxygen flow to the brain may contribute to reduced function of the brain causing memory and performance issues. Additionally, tobacco smoke contains toxic chemicals and carcinogens (cancer causing agents) that should not be used for human consumption, such as hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, and uranium.
Although we should always take care of our brains, it becomes even more important to care for our brains as we age. The steps listed are simple and free or inexpensive ways to optimize our brain health. Each step helps reduce our risk of cognitive decline and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.