Think of brain health like a bicycle wheel: there are five main “spokes” that need to stay strong. If one main area is under supported, your brain health will have a bumpy ride.
But first: what does it mean to have a healthy brain? A healthy brain is one that ages slowly, stays protected against inflammation and disease, stays cognitively sharp, and is able to produce all the hormones it needs to keep you working, playing, and sailing smooth and happy.
We all want to be able to dance in our kitchens and sing Fleetwood Mac lyrics into a spatula for many years to come. If you follow these five main components of brain health, you’ll be cookin’ for a damn while, sister.
Early humans went through a brain growth spurt about 1.8 million years ago. This growth spurt enabled humans to stride past our animal friends and into the world of innovation. What caused this sudden shift from primate to PhD? In a word: nutrition.
A large body of scientific evidence shows that brains got big when humans expanded their culinary consciousness beyond grass and roots. When humans started filling their baskets with berries, nuts, fish, whole grains, and eggs, our brains got bigger and we marched forward to create cave paintings, compose symphonies, land on the moon, and like stuff on Facebook.
For a healthy, happy brain, there are certain foods you need in your diet. Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables – berries, leafy greens, avocado, and other garden staples. Whole grains, eggs, fatty fish, greek yogurt, nuts, and seeds. There are some nice-to-haves: dark chocolate, red wine. I could write an ebook on this, so I did. Check out the entire brain-health diet low-down, in by ebook, titled “Eating for Brain Health: 15 Foods for Longevity”.
Likewise, there are foods your brain doesn’t need and doesn’t want. Put down the soda! Steer clear from sugary candies and processed grains. Avoid foods from antibiotic-raised animals, and avoid fried foods and trans fats.
Get your body moving to experience a wide panacea of cures, from lowering inflammation to reducing stress, to stimulating the release of brain-growth hormones. Exercise can even get some new brain cells popping out. Breaking a sweat will release brain-protecting hormones such as dopamine and serotonin.
A wide body of research shows that exercise improves cognitive function and memory and can even prevent aging by 10 years. Stave off Alzheimer’s by lacing up those walking shoes.
Sleep is so important that if you don’t get enough, the rest of your body (and brain) can’t function. A sleep-deprived brain can’t absorb its nutrients, can’t react as quickly, can’t think as clear, and can’t fight disease the way a well-rested brain can. So don’t be one of those “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” types. If you don’t get some sleep, you WILL be dead sooner.
Studies find that poor sleepers are at a higher risk for age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Sleep provides the important function of cleansing the brain, clearing it of the harmful proteins that build up to cause Alzheimer’s.
Pick one: your stressors, or your brain. Yes, your stressful job might literally make you lose your mind. A study out of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that chronic stress and cortisol can damage the brain, forever changing its structure and function. Stressed brains are smaller, suffer from more mental illnesses, have poor memory, and run the risk of stroke.
If you feel constantly anxious, depressed, worried, or overwhelmed, it might be a good idea to seek counseling and to discover ways to best take care of yourself, whether that’s walking away from stressors or changing your coping mechanisms. Your brain will thank you.
There is also ample evidence to suggest that meditation can shield the brain from shrinkage due to aging, and even change how the brain responds to anxiety and stress. People who meditate report significant reductions in their stress levels and improvements in psychological wellbeing. Those who meditate have brains that are able to combat depression, addiction, and pain. And after just a couple of weeks, meditators experience increased focus, attention span, and memory. Can’t figure out how the heck to sit down and start meditating? Download a meditation app like Headspace to get started. Trust me, you’ll feel so good afterwards.
Friends, Fun, and Games
Think of your brain as a muscle that needs to be stretched and strengthened! A happy brain is an active one, so stay in the loop with friends, read some books, play video games with your kids, and strike up a Sudoku habit. Your brain doesn’t like being a couch potato, so pick up a musical instrument, travel to places you’ve never been, and join a social club. Staying social and engaged will keep your brain sharp.
A healthy brain is up to you. Follow these five simple lifestyle habits to enjoy a clear brain for years to come. And join my facebook group Take Charge of Your Food Journey w Ann Gentry for brain-healthy nutrition support, stress-relief inspiration, and health tips to keep your light upstairs bright and burning.
After all, what’s life like without your wicked sense of humor, your sharp fashion sense, and your love of rock n’ roll? Everything you are, is your brain. Learn to protect the only brain you have.