Did you know mental decline in humans typically begins before the age of 40 and unused parts of the brain can actually stop working?
Brain Awareness Week is 13-19 March so now is the time to think about what strategies or changes you can make daily for optimum brain health.
The brain needs exercise, so challenging it with new activities wakes up new areas. Challenging creates new pathways that appear to become alternate routes when neurones die off in middle and old age.
Research suggests ongoing mental stimulation provides some protection against mental decline so try things you don't already do - a musician might study a new language or a lover of crosswords may try Sudoku for a change.
Daily changes can be as easy as reading a book instead of watching TV, using a pen and paper to work out sums rather than using a calculator, playing games like bridge or chess instead of spending time on social media, or even learning a new instrument rather than just listening to music.
Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel and as a general rule, good nutrition for the body is good nutrition for the brain. But don't overdo it - reducing calories can help slow age-related brain changes
Your brain needs a well-balanced, low cholesterol, low saturated diet. Protein and unsaturated fat is especially important for developing brains and fish, a rich source of both, is sometimes called brain food.
Exercise daily if possible. Regular exercise reduces depression and reduces cardiovascular risk factors. Even a short bout of exercise releases serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Easy swaps: climb stairs instead of taking the lift, park your car further away or get off the bus a few stops earlier.
Keep stress to a minimum. There is increasing evidence that stress actually damages the brain. The mechanism for this is thought to be the brain's response to hormones that increase during periods of stress. These stress hormones can actually kill nerve cells in animals and are thought to do the same in humans.
Anxiety can also increase heart rate and blood pressure and can lead to stroke while depression affects memory and slows brain metabolism. The steps you take to reduce stress are likely to preserve nerve cells and help maintain mental abilities.
Make sure you get a good night's sleep. During deep sleep, the brain repairs itself and boosts the immune system. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain consolidates information learned during the previous day. Poor sleep or sleep loss leads to fatigue, immune suppression, memory, concentration and mood disorders.
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