Last week we alluded to dubious claims made by manufacturers of brain training apps and games, but there is a great deal of scientific research surrounding the neurological benefits of some activities. These include doing puzzles, playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. Continuing to educate yourself is also a great way of maintaining brain health. There is no problem with being an autodidact, but night classes or adult study courses can have the same positive impact as staying in school. One study suggests that the better educated you are, the less like you are to contract Alzheimer’s in later life (http://www.dana.org/News/The_Neuroprotective_Effects_of_Education/). Even if this isn’t the case, continuing to educate yourself and develop your skills helps you to remain engaged and interested, particularly after retirement.
As with every aspect of health, diet plays an important part in looking after your brain. While the jury is out on whether fish or foods containing omega oils actually do have any benefits, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of water, does have demonstrable benefits. Some studies even suggest that adhering to a Mediterranean diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, with a little olive oil and red wine but minimal intact of unhealthy fats, could help keep your brain healthier for longer (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23680940). At the very least, it will reduce the dietary risk of heart disease.
Cardiovascular health is essential for a healthy brain. This means stopping smoking and exercising regularly. However, your brain needs regular exercise too. Research suggests that having a purpose in life helps keep you brain healthier for longer (http://www.dana.org/News/A_Purposeful_Life_is_a_Healthier_Life/). Some studies even suggest that people with focused, useful lives live longer. Even after you retire, this can be as simple as meeting friends for a regular walk, taking care of a pet, having a part-time job or getting involved in family or community projects. Whatever it is, your brain needs a life outside the home and everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning. Lastly, make sure you get good, regular sleep. Disturbed sleep has been linked to numerous mood disorders, including anxiety, stress and depression (http://www.dana.org/News/The_Link_Between_Depression,_Sleep,_and_Stress/).
So, if you sometimes feel as though your brain just isn’t working, pause for a moment and consider how you’ve been treating it recently. Have you drunk any water today? When was the last time you went for a walk? Is your work or home life stimulating? Do you think that your junk-food diet could be impeding your mental abilities? Is TV turning your brain to mush while your bookshelves gather dust? Are you always awake after 2am? If you start looking after your brain a little better, it might start looking after you.
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