The brain is undoubtedly one of the most important muscles of the body, and knowing how to properly look after it will result in a magnitude of benefits that will improve one’s overall quality of life. Alzheimers, Dementia, Parkinson’s and general cognitive decline are all conditions that are a threat as we age. Depression and Anxiety impact so many of the population at any age or health status. Evidence shows us that lifestyle choices such as exercise, quality sleep, nutrition, meditation and study or hobbies can prevent the onset of these conditions and help us live a better quality life.
The benefits of meditation are numerous, and supported by science. Researchers from John Hopkins University found that having a regular meditation practice can help ease psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety, pain related to stress, while improving mental resilience and an increased satisfaction with life. With anything else in life, it’s important to start small and slowly build to find your sweet spot. For some people that is 60 minutes a day and to others it’s 10 minutes. Find out what length feels achievable for you to keep up motivation and establish a daily routine to let go, breathe and recharge - it really can go a long way to improve health.
We all know that physical activity has many benefits for the functionality and health of the body, but what exactly happens when we exercise regularly for the brain? Exercise increases activity in parts of the brain that has to do with executive function and memory, and increases blood and oxygen flow which promotes the growth of new brain cells. Exercising regularly can improve sleep, memory, energy levels, anxiety and depression, and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. For the most benefit, most adults need 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity. This can look like 30 minutes a day for 5 days, plus two or more days a week of strength-based exercise.
Study / Hobbies
Brain plasticity refers to the ability to continue to learn and grow as you age. Keeping your brain active through study and hobbies is great for maintaining cognitive function. This doesn’t mean university level study is needed to improve brain health, research shows us that creative outlets like painting, learning an instrument, writing and learning a language are also extremely beneficial in improving cognitive function. Embracing a hobby or study that enables you to think and learn on an ongoing basis is one of the best ways of keeping the brain healthy. Start by choosing a new activity that seems of interest and plan out how you can devote consistent time and attention to that activity. Signing up to a class can help to develop the right skills, for example guitar or language lessons. Lastly, have fun with it - choosing something that interests you will be essential in maintaining motivation and retaining information.
You may have heard in recent years of the integral relationship between the brain and the gut. The gut-brain axis consists of bidirectional communication linking emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Researchers have described the importance of gut microbiome in influencing these interactions. So basically the gut is a sort of ‘second brain’ that can influence our thoughts, feelings and choices. By prioritising foods that feed our good gut microbiome, we can in turn improve our mental health. Incorporating majority plant-based wholefoods favours good gut health, particularly by its way of promoting gut microbiome diversity.
Failure to get good quality sleep doesn’t just result in fatigue and exhaustion, it can also wreak havoc on your brain and lead to many further problems. The brain goes through many processes while we are asleep, including the reorganisation of neurons, converting short term memory into long term memory, clearing waste, and decluttering unused information. Good quality sleep will benefit memory processes, mental sharpness, mood, focus, information processing and more.
What to do next
– Start small by choosing one thing to add into your life and add more as you go. You could start with incorporating a daily meditation practice or you could start a new hobby.
– Seek guidance and support if incorporating these lifestyle changes is overwhelming or difficult