Brain health is often overlooked compared to other aspects of our well-being. However, taking care of our brains is essential for optimal functioning. Cognitive decline typically becomes noticeable after midlife, unless there is a serious condition present. But by giving our brains the care they deserve, we can maintain peak performance for longer.
Geriatric psychiatrist and author Dr. Gary Small emphasizes the importance of brain care. He explains that taking care of our brains not only benefits our cognitive function but also has positive effects on our overall health, longevity, and social connections.
Here are five expert-backed habits that can improve brain health:
Taking walks with a friend: Regular physical exercise, such as leisure walking, has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Walking with a friend provides additional benefits, including mental stimulation through conversation and the opportunity to discuss any concerns, which can reduce stress.
Meditating for 10 minutes: Chronic stress can damage the hippocampus and impair memory. Regular meditation, even for just 10 minutes, has been found to improve mood and cognitive function. The style or method of meditation doesn't matter as much as consistency.
Gratitude journaling: Repetitive negative thinking is associated with an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Practicing gratitude can counteract this. Pairing gratitude journaling with handwriting exercises can further enhance brain health by engaging the prefrontal cortex responsible for memory and recall. Alternatively, writing letters to loved ones combines the benefits of penmanship with social engagement.
Keeping a consistent bedtime: Sleep plays a crucial role in brain function, including memory consolidation and clearing toxins. Consistently getting at least seven hours of sleep allows the brain to clear out toxins effectively. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of dementia.
Picking up a new team sport: Learning is vital for brain health. Engaging in a social hobby with a physical component, such as joining a yoga studio or playing pickup basketball, provides a triple brain boost by combining physicality, learning, and social interaction. Meaningful social engagement has been shown to reduce cognitive decline.
Improving brain health doesn't require drastic changes. The key is finding enjoyable activities that can be sustained. Incorporating these brain-friendly habits into our daily routines can make a significant difference in our brain's current and long-term functioning.