3. Fuel it the finest.
Our dietary choices affect not only the health of our bodies but also the health of our brains. In fact our brains consume one fifth of all the nutrients and kilojoules we ingest. What we eat has a significant impact on our neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages between neurons across synapses), our alertness, our mood and our cognitive functioning.
4. Keep the cargo light.
Obesity is a major risk factor for dementia.
5. Run the motor.
Without physical exercise our brains waste away as much as our muscles waste away. Exercise actually induces the growth of new brain cells.
6. Learn the ropes and keep on learning.
Having a good education and engaging in lifelong, active learning help to protect us from dementia and contribute to our developing “cognitive reserve”. This reserve acts as a buffer against mental decline as we age.
7. Sail to new shores.
Boredom and monotony are poisonous to our brains. We need to get out there, get exploring and get out of our comfort zones. We need to sail to new shores to find riches outside our usual boundaries. We need to change our routines, do things differently and give ourselves ongoing challenges.
8. Use it or lose it.
This applies to every function of the brain and body, from studying to socialising to sex. In order to maintain our capacity for learning new skills, we need to engage in learning new skills on a regular basis. In order to become creative, inventive and re-sourceful, we need to give ourselves tasks that require creativity, inventiveness and resourcefulness. In order to have a good memory, we need to make a conscious effort to pay attention. In order to remain socially adept, we need to remain socially active.
9. Train it and regain it.
If we lose a specific brain function, all is not lost. Progressive, persistent, goal-focused practice can help us regain the lost function.
10. Charge the battery.
Stilling the mind is as important as stimulating the mind. Getting adequate sleep and pressing the pause button on our mind chatter are essential for peak performance on a day-to-day basis, as well as preservation of brain function as we age.
11. Connect with fellow travellers.
Lifelong social interaction and meaningful connection with others is vital for a healthy brain.
12. Choose the destination.
The brain is a teleological device—it is fed by having goals to strive for and aspirations to work towards. The clearer we are about where we want to go and what we want to achieve, the more effective the brain is in accomplishing the required tasks. This is analogous to the captain giving the crew clear instructions about where they’re going and what is expected of them.
13. Command the crew.
Having decided on what we want, we need to direct our self-talk to support our goals. Our internal dialogue is a constant stream of instructions to the subconscious mind. Uplifting, solution-focused self-talk switches on brain cell activity; negative, discouraging self-talk dampens it.
14. Communicate gratitude.
When we think about what we’re thankful for, we wire our brains to continue finding things to be thankful for. Our brains are designed so that we see whatever we’re looking for. We are never objective, even when we make a concerted effort to be so. Subjectivity always enters our perceptions. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. Therefore, by regularly reflecting on things that we’re grateful for, we construct a filter through which we see the world and we create more experiences for which to feel grateful.
15. Practise perfectly.
When we practise a skill in our imaginations, the same neurons are firing as if we were performing the skill in real life! If we see ourselves executing a task perfectly in the mind’s eye, we become better at it in the real world because every mental rehearsal increases the efficiency of electrical transmissions between the involved nerve cells. Mental practice turbocharges our progress.