The end of summer is approaching, which means it’s time for adults and professionals to recapture a “back to school” discipline, including positive health habits to last through the end of the year.
Among a self-care regiment, it’s important to include activities that keep your brain healthy and active. For some tips on how to do just that, I spoke with professional dietitian, April N. Winslow, MS, RDN, CEDRD. More practical tips and insights into brain health and fitness during BrainFutures 2017, a conference set for September 6-7 in Washington, D.C.
Tip #1: Try to learn something new, every single day.
An active mind allows for the development of new neural pathways and keeps creative energy flowing. Download and listen to a podcast on a topic you are unfamiliar with, or commit to learning a few words of a new language each week.
Tip #2: Integrate physical movement into your brain-training activities.
The brain needs exercise to stay fit. Increasing your heart rate causes the heart muscle to pump nutrient dense blood to all areas of the body, including the brain. More specifically, clinical research has demonstrated significant neurological benefits from regular exercise on mental health outcomes. Aerobic exercises increase oxygen levels in the brain and throughout the body, thus making the metabolic breakdown of food into fuel more efficient.
Tip #3: Consistent sleep is crucial.
Consistent and predictable sleep patterns are an essential part of mental wellness. Allowing the body and brain to rest offers time for the immune system to take inventory of the normal, daily cellular damage that needs to be repaired. Most of this brain remodeling occurs while you are asleep—so make sure you’re getting enough rest.
Tip #4: Socialization is good for the brain.
Humans are communal creatures. We were created for intimacy and need interactions with people for proper health. Engaging with friends, family, 4-legged companions, or even an online community is crucial to maintaining your mental health. It helps ward off depression and can improve cognitive performance.
Tip #5: Play time is more productive than you think.
Spending a day in the fresh air and sun promotes relaxation and helps your decision making and logical processes. Chess/checkers is a fun way to spend an afternoon with a friend while also working out your memory and logic. Even video games can be great. Logic and strategy based games have scientific merit as a tool for brain remodeling.
Tip #6: There is value in active rest.
Active rest activities, such as yoga or meditation, allow for the assimilation of thoughts and perceived biochemical inputs by the brain to be integrated into your working memory. Allowing yourself time to process the events of your life creates a template for activating the hippocampus (e.g., the file cabinet of memories in the brain). Proper time spent reflecting can help manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Tip #7: Only eat “the good stuff.”
Being consciously aware of the food you consume enables you to make nutritional changes that can help optimize your brain health. A top-notch cerebral cortex can be impacted by adding in whole, unrefined foods from quality food sources, such as plant-based whole foods.