Just as a precious timepiece sitting idle on a mantle will collect dust and begin to wind down, so will your brain if it’s allowed to go without “food for thought”. Keeping your brain active and engaged is one of the most important things you can do to maintain brainpower. Activities such as playing cards, doing numerical or word puzzles, learning a new language, or taking up challenging new endeavors such as ballroom dancing help keep the brain computing and clicking away. How does ballroom dancing help your brain stay active, you ask? Learning new moves activates brain motor centers that form new neural connections. Dancing involves a lot of counting and concentration on rhythm that keeps your brain thinking the whole time your feet are moving. And one of the best benefits of dancing is that it calms the brain’s stress response. After all, who could possibly think about life’s cares once you’re twirling ’round the floor like Fred and Ginger? I know I’d be thinking about my feet!
If dancing is the latest challenge you’ve decided upon, you’ll also have to feed your brain so that it can remember the steps you’ve just learned. Your brain requires specific nutrients to carry out its daily functions. Lean proteins, high fibre carbs, good fats, and water are all essential to the basic needs of your brain. Let’s take a deeper look at how to keep your neural network fired up for years to come.
BRAIN TEASERS – BRAIN PLEASERS!
Your brain is naturally curious so feed this hunger with all manner of brain teasers which can, and do, help keep the mind sharp. The old phrase “use it or lose it” has never been more aptly applied than in the case of your brain.
All manner of studies over the years have shown, time and again, that time spent stimulating the brain can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s. A specific study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that ten sessions of exercises to boost reasoning skills, memory and mental processing speed staved off mental decline in middle-aged and elderly people in the first definitive study to show that honing intellectual skills can bolster the mind in the same way the physical exercise protects and strengthens the body. The researchers also showed that the benefits of the brain exercises extended well beyond the specific skills the volunteers learned.
There used to be the notion that once a child reached a certain age that the brain was locked in its growth and structure and could not be changed. New research has destroyed that notion. Scientists have found that the brain is dynamic. It continues to change and grow according to the needs and demands put upon it. 1
TIPS TO TRY
1. Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer! – It’s such a win/win when you give of your time. Libraries, elementary schools, museums and hospitals all depend on volunteer participation and are so appreciative when they get it. And your brain will appreciate the workout it gets on the job. Acting as a tour guide for your local museum or point of interest requires you to learn new facts and think fast when questions are posed from your tour group. This assists in forming new neural pathways in your brain. And if you enjoy this type of social interaction rather than sitting alone and fretting, it can actually help lower the stress chemicals that deplete your memory.
2. Let Your Kids (and Grandkids) Teach You New Tricks – Grab that control unit from your kids, or grandkids, and get them to show you how to use their latest video game. Renting educational video games (yes, they’re out there) allows you to participate in recreational activities with the kids, and again, lowers your stress levels as you laugh and learn together. Playing board games is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia because they activate strategic spatial and memory parts of the brain.
3. Look and Learn – Play this little game with yourself the next time you go for a walk; look straight ahead but see if you can make out what’s on the periphery without turning your head (or straining your eyes). This type of activity stimulates the neural and spatial centers of the brain.
4. A Classy Option – Research shows that taking courses can help prevent the onset of dementia. If a class is not an option for you, attend a lecture, a seminar or read a book on a new subject.
5. The Great Debate – It is said that there are three things you should never talk about in public; religion, politics and sex. But that leaves a myriad of topics to choose from. If you can do it without losing your temper, pick a topic and engage in a lively conversation about it. A good debate can form new neural pathways and force you to think clearly and quickly. You might join a book club. Meeting new people forces new neural connections, the social interaction keeps you from being alone, and you might just enjoy the book!
6. Toot Your Own Horn – Playing a musical instrument stimulates the brain in all sorts of ways. Music requires timing, rhythm, focus and counting skills, especially if you play with a group of people. The social interaction will keep you laughing and eliminate the ultimate skill-destroyer; boredom.
GIVE YOUR BRAIN A BREAK
Practice Positive Thinking – The “Can Do” Attitude
A sunny point of view is one of the most important things we can give ourselves. It keeps our brains healthy and ready to process our day-to-day experiences from a positive vantage point. Our opinion of ourselves, of the world around us, and the way we relate to others can have quite the effect on our general well-being and on our brains. And the good news is, an optimistic outlook is completely your choice; it’s not something that is pre-programmed genetically but totally within your power to create. So bring on the challenges! You can absolutely approach them all by first making a conscience choice to see the best in everything.
Think Good Thoughts
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
- Decreased negative stress
- Greater resistance to catching the common cold
- A sense of well-being and improved health
- Reduced risk of coronary artery disease
- Easier breathing if you have certain lung diseases, such as emphysema
- Improved coping ability for women with high-risk pregnancies
- Better coping skills during hardships
I Think I Can, I Think I Can…
Sometimes negative thinking creeps into our day, threatening to spoil our good mood, and color everything else that might come along. Here’s some alternative phrases you can use to re-empower yourself if negative thinking starts…
|Negative self-talk||Positive spin|
|I’ve never done it before.
It’s too complicated.
I don’t have the resources.
There’s not enough time.
There’s no way it will work.
It’s too radical a change.
No one bothers to communicate with me.
I’m not going to get any better at this.
|It’s an opportunity to learn something new.
I’ll tackle it from a different angle.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Let’s re-evaluate some priorities.
I can try to make it work.
Let’s take a chance.
I’ll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I’ll give it another try.
More Breaks For Your Brain
1. Try Some Simple Meditation – No, you don’t have to tie yourself up in knots in the lotus position to meditate. Meditation is simply the action of placing all your focus on one thing. Sit quietly and focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Don’t force it into a rhythm, just let it happen. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to focus on your breath again by using a key word such as “peace”, and saying it to yourself over and over until your mind is back on your breathing.
2. A Glass of Red Wine Clears the Mind – If your health care professional gives you the green light, consider sipping a glass of red wine now and again. Red wine contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, specifically one antioxidant called resveratrol, which may prevent free radicals from damaging brain cells. But remember, everything in moderation. Drinking more than 2-3 glasses per week can leach the brain-boosting vitamin thiamine (B1) from your brain.
3. Tune Into Your Favorite Tunes – Going about your daily tasks with your favorite tunes providing the backdrop can lower the stress hormones that reduce memory. That good feeling a familiar tune gives you can actually improve your focus as well.
4. A Fast Fast – Fasting one day per month can help release a specific form of blood glucose that assists the brain transmit information more effectively.
5. The Nocturnal Nod-Off – Our nocturnal cycle allows the body to do all sorts of important things that it couldn’t do during the day while you’re otherwise engaged. At night, your brain gathers together and creates your memories. By having a calming bedtime routine, you’ll probably drop off to a dopamine-releasing state faster. Dopamine reduces the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body. Sleeping until you wake naturally (when time permits) is always a good idea. Sleep deprivation can disallow your brain from manufacturing the brain-boosting proteins and other components it needs. You could try grabbing those few extra zzz’s during the afternoon. A snooze as short as 30 minutes can reap a mountain of concentration and memory benefits for your brain.
6. Medication Meltdown? – It may not be you that is having the memory problems; it might be the combination of medications you’re taking. Some medications block a critical brain chemical from doing its job. Talk with your health care professional if you think this might be the case. At any rate, it’s always a good practice to review your meds on a regular basis.
WHEN YOUR BODY MOVES, YOUR BRAIN MOVES
We all know that exercise is good for the body. Now, scientists are discovering it’s good for the brain as well. In recent years, researchers have found that exercise improves memory, concentration, and abstract reasoning and may even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. It works like this: aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which nourishes brain cells and allows them to function more effectively—“kind of like making sure your engine is all tuned up,” says Waneen Spirduso, Ed.D., a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Exercise and Its Mediating Effects on Cognition (Human Kinetics, 2007).
A recent study showed that exercise actually promotes the growth of new neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus—the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. Scientists previously believed that once brain cells died, they were not replaced. 3
TIPS TO TRY
1. Walk A Mile In Your Shoes – Just 20 minutes a day can lower blood sugar, which helps promote blood flow to the brain. Your dog will appreciate it too. If walking is not your bag, ride a bike but remember to wear a “brain bucket”. The right helmet for your head can prevent a concussion and protect your brain from serious injury.
2. Check Your Thyroid – Thyroid hormones help nerve cells make connections. If your levels of thyroid hormones are low, it can create a state of depression, fatigue and foggy-headedness. For more complete information on your thyroid, CLICK HERE.
3. A Change Is Better Than A Rest – Here’s the excuse you’ve been looking for to rearrange, redecorate and redesign; it’s good for your brain! Plant a garden, move the furniture, or clean out those drawers and closets. Making changes alters motor pathways in the brain and encourages new cell growth.
4. It Bears Thinking About – The next time you visit the gym, add some weight-bearing elements to your workout. This helps protect brain cells from damage done by free radicals and encourages new brain-cell growth because you’re altering your regular routine. Even adding a new type of exercise such as tai chi, yoga, or Pilates can shake it up enough to make your brain work harder and smarter.
5. Shake The Cobwebs Out – Sitting for long periods of time is not only hard on your back and your joints, it’s hard on your brain. Concentrating for longer periods of time can cause stress and stress produces that brain-zapping chemical, cortisol. Get up from what you’re doing every hour or so, stand by a chair for balance, and gently bounce to move your knees and shake out your arms and shoulders. The relaxation the movement provides, and the alertness to a new task, keeps your brain sharp by having to switch gears from one activity to another.
6. Sightseeing – Take a new path when you walk through your neighborhood. Find a new café, corner store or park. Explore a new route through a part of your neighborhood you’ve never visited before. Or, drive to a new part of town and take a walk, making mental notes of all the new attractions. This helps you to forge new neural networks in your brain.
“SMART” FOOD – Fuel For Your Brain
There are a few key elements to keep in mind when choosing foods that will enhance your brainpower.
You are not just what you eat, you’re what you drink as well. Given that your brain is about 80% water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain. Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones, which can damage your brain over time. It’s generally not a good idea to use thirst alone as a guide for when to drink. By the time you become thirsty, it’s possible to already be slightly dehydrated. Further, as you get older, your body is less able to sense dehydration and send your brain signals of thirst.
Try and work up to drinking between one and two litres of water each day. It’s best to drink “clean” water; water that has not been mixed with sugars, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine. Herbal teas are okay and you can even make iced tea (no sugar) with some of the teas that have fruit flavorings. Green tea is the best as it contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. Green tea also enhances mental relaxation and clear thinking.
One Fantastic Fat
A large fraction of the gray matter in your brain is made up of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid. The fat in your brain plays a fundamental role in how your brain cells function. Nerve cells, or neurons, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research in the last few years has revealed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood, possibly because DHA is a main component of the brain’s synapses.
Lots of Dietary Antioxidants
A number of studies have shown that dietary intake of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables significantly reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment. The research was done because it was theorized that free radical formation plays a major role in the deterioration of the brain with age. When a cell converts oxygen into energy, tiny molecules called free radicals are made. When produced in normal amounts, free radicals work to rid the body of harmful toxins, thereby keeping it healthy. When produced in toxic amounts, free radicals damage the body’s cellular machinery, resulting in cell death and tissue damage. This process is called oxidative stress. Vitamin E and Vitamin C and beta carotene inhibit the production of free radicals.
The best antioxidant fruits and vegetables are blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries and kiwis.4
Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates
Balance is the key! It’s not all about weight loss when you’re eating a nutritionally sound, balanced diet. However, weight loss usually does occur because you’ve included a significantly higher daily intake of fruits and vegetables (5-9 servings a day) and whole grain products. And if weight loss is one of your goals, you’ll likely add exercise to the mix to help you along.
Due to your brain’s requirement for fat, severe limitations on fats can leave you foggy-headed and not able to concentrate. It’s the type of fats you consume that are most important.
For instance, the avocado has been given a bad name in recent years due to it’s higher fat content, but it also contains high levels of vitamin K; the vitamin that is necessary for blood clotting. Without it, your blood would not clot. Avocados also contain high amounts of dietary fibre, potassium, folate, B6, vitamin C, and copper. So you see, it’s all about balancing things out.
Balance is vital, especially balancing proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates. Protein at each meal helps balance blood sugar levels; adding lean meat, eggs, cheese, soy, or nuts to a snack or meal limits the fast absorption of carbohydrates and prevents the brain fog that goes with eating simple carbohydrates, such as donuts. At each meal or snack, try to get a balance of protein, high fibre carbohydrates, and fat.
Nutritional Choices That Are Good For The Brain
Choose between these 24 foods each week. They are healthy, low in calories, and help us reach the goals of consuming powerful antioxidants, lean protein, high fibre carbohydrates and good fat.
Fruits & Vegetables
Oats, Whole Wheat,
Water, Green Tea,
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
Further Reading Suggestions:
1. Brain Health & Puzzles
Lots and lots for you to choose from.
1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
1. Brain Health & Puzzles
2. Stress Management, MayoClinic.com
3. AARP, The Magazine
Your Brain On Exercise
4. Brain Food, 7 Nutrition Tips for Increasing Brain Power
Dr. Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
5. Brain Food, 7 Nutrition Tips for Increasing Brain Power
Dr. Daniel G. Amen, M.D.