Ways We Can Increase And (Unknowingly) Decrease Our Brain Health
Fitness media is packed with loads of exciting regimens and diets to encourage us to get more physically fit. But when it comes to learning new ways to strengthen brain health, it’s addressed as a depressing afterthought – if you’ll excuse the pun.
Our brain is the control center of our body. From thinking and feeling to moving and breathing, it takes an active part in everything we do. Just like our physical bodies need proper exercise and nutrition to keep us energized, healthy, and strong, our brains need proper attention to function properly.
Without proper attention to our physical health, our bodies respond with overt red flags
- Weight gain,
- High blood pressure
Without proper attention to our mental health, our body responds a bit more inconspicuously,
With so much on our plate, it is tempting to ignore our cerebral calls for help…Everyone deals with a little anxiety and stress, right? Anxiety is a part of life. Sleep is overrated Self-medicating with wine, ice cream or pills works wonders. Suck it up!
Unfortunately ignoring our mental wellness can transform into serious physical ailments, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer…and dementia.
What to do? Knowledge is power! To help navigate the fascinating science of cognitive care, here’s a helpful checklist to help refresh, de-stress, and strengthen your mental wellness. Every little bit helps!
#1 on the list is no surprise…Exercise! Exercise is like a shower for the brain. It clears away all the stress and grime of the day and allows our brain to reboot and refresh. While all exercise is good, not all exercise is created equal.
According to the New England School of Medicine, vigorous cardiovascular, pattern-based exercise, like Mojo, is #1 for overall brain health and helping to prevent dementia:
How HIIT dance fitness strengthens our cognitive function:
• Learning new movements: When we learn new movements, we are essentially creating new neural pathways in our brain. The brain has to figure out how to coordinate the different muscles involved in the movement. The more we practice a movement, the stronger our neural pathways become.
• Making split-second decisions: Mimicking another person’s movements requires us to make decisions quickly, which helps improve cognitive function by strengthening the connections between different areas of our brain.
• Releasing endorphins: Endorphins are hormones that have mood-boosting and stress-relieving effects. They also protect our brain from damage by reducing inflammation, which helps improve cognitive function and can also protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease.
Another powerful way to add brain power and agility is our diet: Like taking a prescription drug to help us sleep or calm a fever, our diet is a natural, delicious way to build a relaxed, more alert, more confident mind. Here are a few examples of how food fortifies our brain:
Fruits and vegetables are like a healthy smoothie for the brain. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help to protect the brain from damage and improve cognitive function.
- Whole grains are like a balanced meal for the brain. They provide sustained energy and fiber, which helps to keep the brain healthy.
- Lean protein is like a building block for the brain. It helps to create new brain cells and repair damaged ones.
- Healthy fats are like brain lubricants. Unsaturated fats, like salmon, shellfish, walnuts, and avocado, help to improve communication between brain cells and protect the brain from damage.
Feeling sluggish, depressed, and anxious? Try these foods to avoid to preserve and strengthen mental health:
- Processed foods are like junk food for the brain. They are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt, which can damage the brain and lead to cognitive decline. So think of processed foods as brain junk food, like potato chips, are junk food.
- Sugary drinks are like empty calories for the brain. They provide no nutrients and can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for dementia.
Alcohol is like a toxin for the brain. It can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function.
Trans fats (unhealthy fats) are like brain plaque. They damage the brain, lead to cognitive decline, and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Sleep! Though easier said than done, getting enough sleep is one of our brain’s most fundamental needs. When we sleep, our brains are able to rest and repair themselves.
Sleep deprivation can lead to…
The production of new memories is impaired. When we sleep, our brains consolidate memories from the day. Sleep deprivation can impair our ability to think clearly, concentrate, and make decisions.
- Mood disorders. Sleep deprivation can contribute to anxiety, depression, and irritability.
- More accidents. Sleep deprivation leads to impaired coordination and reflexes
- Weight gain. Sleep deprivation can lead to changes in hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.
Staying asleep has been a bit of a pesky problem for me. This article from The Mayo Clinic has been helpful for me, including these tips:
- Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid prolonged use of electronic devices with a screen, such as laptops, smartphones and ebooks before bed.
- Go to bed only when you’re sleepy. Do something relaxing that will help you wind down.
Have a problem staying asleep?
Put clocks in your bedroom out of sight. Clock-watching causes stress and makes it harder to go back to sleep if you wake up during the night. (This little trick has worked wonders for me!)
Lastly…Being social is a vital ingredient for cognitive wellness. Just like a plant needs water to grow and thrive, our mental health needs social interaction to flourish.
When my Dad was struggling with Alzheimer’s, one of his prescriptions was incorporating social interaction every single day. Socializing doesn’t sound all that “medical”, but it’s key to preserving and strengthening our mental wellness.
Specific ways being social helps our cognitive function:
- Social interaction helps to improve memory by requiring us to pay attention to others and remember information about them.
- We enjoy mood-boosting natural drugs when we spend time with people we care about. We release dopamine and oxytocin, which are hormones that have mood-boosting effects. We also reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, which can damage the brain.