The brain, like any other part of the body needs to be used and challenged regularly in order for it to function optimally. Research has shown that there are certain practices, habits and foods that can help improve cognitive function and aids in keeping the brain healthy. Cognitive health is very important, especially when you are young, and establishing correct habits in your youth will help keep your brain functioning well into old age.
It is important to understand that although dementia or Alzheimer’s may not be in your genes, most people over the age of 65 experience some form of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). This means that no matter what genes you have inherited, the simple process of aging will have an impact on your cognitive functioning. MCI also does not determine whether you will develop more debilitating symptoms later on, but it is more likely.These symptoms may not seem that bad but can be enough of a reason to be more careful about your cognitive health while you are young. Some of these symptoms can be quite frustrating and can make older people question and doubt themselves:
- Remembering names
- Finding the correct the words
- Remembering where certain objects are
- Concentration and focus
These symptoms do not mean that it will get worse, unless you do nothing about it. Your body has early warning systems that let you know when something is wrong and needs to be changes that are exactly what these symptoms are. The brain is adaptable and if you make the necessary changes to your lifestyle, you will be able to reverse the damage and keep your brain healthy. There are a variety of things that you can do to prevent or even reverse age related cognitive decline, all it takes is some effort on your part.
One part of the brain is particularly vulnerable to ageing and this is the hippocampus which relies on producing a certain protein that helps it function correctly. As it ages the amount produced of this protein is decreased and this is leads to impairment. Understanding this is vital to keeping our brains young and healthy, as it gives opportunities to develop cognitive enhancers and employ neurogenesis-boosting techniques. Neurogenesis means that you are able to grow new brain cells and restore cognitive function to dead or damaged brain cells ‘ meaning that you have a chance to fix any damage that has already occurred.
I will be focussing on 5 great strategies for improving cognitive health and enhancing overall brain function. These strategies will revolve around the health of two brain structures that are involved in learning and both long and short term memory. These are of utmost importance for optimal cognitive functioning: the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. By strengthening these two areas of the brain you will be able to maintain the health of your entire brain and help avoid those worrying moments of forgetfulness.
1. Never Stop Learning New Things
The best way to keep your brain sharp is to keep it active and challenged and this can easily be accomplished if you make learning a life-long journey. Many people believe that once they are done with school or university, they are done learning or they have studied enough. This is a terrible way to view things as there is so much to know in this universe and there is always more to learn. Learning is especially important as you grow older, as it will make it easier to handle changes in technology and the world and it will keep your brain young. Learning after school can be tremendously rewarding and fun, because you are able to choose what you would like to learn.
2. Have Some Fun
This one should come easily, but the stressors of life tend to affect this. Engaging in enjoyable leisure activities is an excellent way to stimulate your brains’ cognitive health. Studies have shown that older people who participate in activities such as reading, playing games or musical instruments and dancing have a lower risk of cognitive decline. Besides this, other activities that have been proven to slow down cognitive decline are travelling, gardening and knitting. All these activities stimulate the brain and result in a protective effect. The one thing to avoid though is watching TV, as this has been known to increase cognitive decline regardless of age.
3. Physical Activity
Exercise is one of the best ways protect your brain function against age related cognitive decline. Moderate physical activity even has the ability to promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The exercise can be as simple as walking daily, as this is enough to cut the risk of developing dementia in half. It is also known that regular exercise in older adults increase brain volume in the areas associated with cognition. It is especially important to remain active even as you get older, because your cognitive health is directly related to your physical health ‘ people who are overweight are much more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s .
4. Brain Training
Recently there have been many brain training apps and websites that make use of fun and interactive games to help strengthen brain function. These programs focus less on crystallized intelligence (knowledge and skills acquired over a lifetime) and more on stimulating working memory. This is the part of your memory that will decline the most with age and needs to be stimulated regularly. You need working memory in order to hold new information for a short time and manipulate this information when needed to perform complex tasks. These activities are a great way to keep your mind fresh and active and will increase your overall fluid intelligence.
5. Eat More Super Foods
Another useful way to make sure your brain stays healthy for longer is to make sure that you eat food that boosts cognitive health. You should avoid blood-sugar spikes, consume more omegas, eat lots of vegetables and foods high in B-vitamins. The best cognitive enhancing foods are:
- Berries ‘ High in flavonoids, manages blood-sugar spikes and delicious.
- Fish oil ‘ Improves the brain structure and function and great for your working memory.
- Turmeric ‘ A miracle spice that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and great for supporting neurogenesis.
As you can tell age-related cognitive impairment is quite common but it is not necessarily inevitable. Whether you are experiencing MCI already or merely want to avoid it, there are many things that you can do to aid your cognitive functioning. You are in control and all you need to do is cultivate healthy habits to remain sharp throughout life.
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