To ensure that our bodies stay healthy, we make choices and try to build habits. We stay physically active, eat balanced meals, try to get decent sleep each night and brush our teeth each morning. If we let any of these healthy activities go, we will soon feel the effects.
But what about our brains? Are there conscious steps and habits we can build into our lives to help protect our brains and keep them working well as we age?
The overall answer is yes, but here’s something important to keep in mind. We can see and feel our muscles, teeth and belly change visibly according to new behaviors and habits in the short term — think of plaque accumulating on teeth if we skip brushing, bulging biceps thanks to a few months in the gym and a regular digestive system when we eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
But we can’t see our brains, nor easily measure how they respond to new habits or choices.
However, research has identified some habits and behaviors that tend to be associated with healthier brains. Some may surprise you!
Keep physically active
Our brains love oxygen. So, get the blood pumping and delivering oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells by working physical activity into your day, whether it’s through a trip to the gym, a walk or jog in the fresh air, or even taking the stairs rather than the elevator.
Stay socially engaged
Our brains love company. Did you know that having a wide social network has been linked with a lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia? Meanwhile, loneliness (as opposed to being happily alone) pushes up the risk of both mental and physical illness. So, keep connected with friends and family and build positive relationships. Maybe you will be helping their brains as well as your own!
Experience new things
Our brains love novelty. So, it is important that we keep those hungry brain cells happily challenged with new information. Try visiting a new place or taking a new route to get to somewhere you go often. Read books and newspapers and listen to the radio and to music, and change it up every so often so you learn and hear new things.
Our brains love sleep. While it might seem like we check out during those hours of slumber, they actually are an important time for repair and refreshing mechanisms in the brain. This probably explains why you feel mentally foggy if you are skimping on the shut-eye.
Bring it all together, with a laugh
Looking after our brains need not be a chore. How about meeting a friend to see a funny film? Your brain will love the company and the new jokes. For physical exercise, walk part of the way to the cinema if you can, then exercise your lungs even more with laughter, and sleep soundly afterward.