Sharing an article of Brain Health. 6 Steps to take to enhance this health level:
- HANG OUT WITH FRIENDS. Close relationships are good for the brain. We have found that people who have supportive friends (or spouses) and rich social networks have better cognitive function and lower rates of dementia than those who spend more time alone. The brain is stimulated when you share ideas with other people. Mental stimulation increases the number of neurons and the connections among neurons. Social engagement lowers levels of stress hormones, which appear to be toxic to the neurons in the hippocampus—the brain ’ s memory center. It also appears to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for stroke. Spend as much time as you can with people you care about—getting together with one close friend can be just as beneficial as hanging out with a group. Meeting new people is beneficial because it adds an extra jolt of stimulation. You can broaden your social network by volunteering or joining community groups.
- DON’T LIVE ON AUTOPILOT. Routine is seductive. People like going to the same restaurants or taking the same route to work. The problem with routine is that it literally creates mental ruts—the brain uses only preexisting pathways and neural connections to complete familiar tasks. It stops growing and improving. By embracing new experiences, you stimulate your brain to create neurons and forge additional neural pathways. This happens every time you extend your scope of experience and think in new ways. The more you challenge your brain—even when the “challenge” is as simple as looking at unfamiliar scenery—the more its functions improve.
- WORK BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN. Do crosswords or puzzles. The improvements that you get from mental challenges quickly level off as you gain expertise. In addition to taking on new challenges, do things that work the underused side of your brain. If you’ re an accountant who crunches numbers all day, you’re drawing heavily on the logical left side of the brain. Take up a hobby that works the right side, the imaginative side, such as painting or making pottery.
- HAVE FUN. People who enjoy what they’re doing get a mental boost. “Forcing” yourself to do things that aren’t fun won’t be anywhere near as good for your brain as activities that you genuinely enjoy. Also, enjoyment triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that enhances learning and retention of new material.
- MOVE! Do something physical every day. Exercise triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth factor that promotes the formation of new synapses in the brain—the connections among brain cells that are critical for memory and other cognitive functions. Exercise also increases the size of the brain. In one study, nonexercisers were given MRI scans to measure their brain volume. Then they were instructed to walk for 60 minutes, three days a week. After six months, they were given another MRI. The scans showed that they had an increase in the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is involved in reasoning, problem-solving and other “executive” functions. Exercise also increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is closely involved with memory. It improves circulation and helps prevent hypertension and other conditions that increase the risk for dementia. Even if you don’t enjoy “formal” exercise, you can get similar benefits just by moving more.
- EAT BRAIN FOOD. A Mediterranean-style diet, with relatively little red meat and lots of fish, vegetables and whole grains, is the best diet for brain health. People who follow this diet have less atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes, conditions that cause inflammation and other brain changes that impair thinking and memory. Fish and olive oil, two staples of the Mediterranean diet, are particularly good for the brain. Fish and omega-3s. About two-thirds of the brain consists of fat. When you eat salmon, sardines or other cold-water fish, the omega-3s from the fish are incorporated into brain tissue. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which looked at more than 2,000 men and women ages 70 to 74, found that those who ate, on average, one-third of an ounce or more of fish daily did better on cognitive tests than those who ate less. Other less potent sources of omega-3s include walnuts, pumpkin seeds and soybeans. You also can take fish-oil supplements. The usual dose is 1,000 milligrams (mg) to 2,000 mg daily. Because the supplements can have a blood-thinning effect and/or interact with some medications, check with your doctor before taking them. Olive oil. It ’ s a healthy fat that reduces inflammation, improves cholesterol and helps reduce the risk for stroke. I use it for cooking almost every day. People who use olive oil regularly tend to have lower rates of dementia and better cognitive function.
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