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Summary: how to live a brain-healthy lifestyle

mBal­anced nutri­tion: As a gen­er­al guide­line, what is good for the body is also good for the brain. Eat­ing a vari­ety of foods of dif­fer­ent col­ors includ­ing cold-water fish which con­tain omega-3 fat­ty acids and avoid­ing high­ly processed foods with added ingre­di­ents are rec­om­mend­ed. Veg­eta­bles, par­tic­u­lar­ly green, leafy ones, are also rec­om­mend­ed where­as few well known sup­ple­ments have shown long-term ben­e­fits on mem­o­ry and oth­er cog­ni­tive func­tions.

Stress man­age­ment: Chron­ic stress reduces and can even inhib­it neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Med­i­ta­tion, yoga, and oth­er calm­ing activ­i­ties are effec­tive in coun­ter­ing stress. Biofeed­back devices that mea­sure heart rate vari­abil­i­ty and show stress lev­els in real-time offer a more high-tech option to man­age stress.

Phys­i­cal exer­cise: Phys­i­cal exer­cise has been shown to enhance brain phys­i­ol­o­gy in ani­mals and, more recent­ly, in humans. Phys­i­cal exer­cise improves learn­ing through increased blood sup­ply and growth hor­mone lev­els in the body. Of all the types of phys­i­cal exer­cise, car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise that gets the heart beat­ing, from walk­ing to ski­ing, ten­nis and bas­ket­ball, has been shown to have the great­est effect.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion
: It strength­ens the synaps­es or con­nec­tions between neu­rons, thus improv­ing neu­ron sur­vival and cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing. Good men­tal exer­cise requires nov­el­ty, vari­ety and increas­ing lev­els of chal­lenge.

Impor­tant take-away
: These pil­lars are com­ple­men­tary, they do not sub­sti­tute each oth­er. It is impor­tant for a per­son to rec­og­nize their start­ing point, and iden­ti­fy what pil­lar they may need to focus more on.

For each pil­lar or lifestyle fac­tor, it is impor­tant to be cre­ative in find­ing a sched­ule or rou­tine that works for an indi­vid­ual through tri­al and error.

Accord­ing to Dr. Art Kramer, the ide­al way would be to com­bine phys­i­cal and men­tal stim­u­la­tion along with social inter­ac­tion. Now, what can you do to start your healthy-brain lifestyle tomorrow?   Have a look at the sev­er­al lifestyle tips that are easy to imple­ment.

How to live a brain-healthy lifestyle?

Bal­anced Nutri­tion:

  • Eat a vari­ety of foods of dif­fer­ent col­ors with­out a lot of added ingre­di­ents or process­es.
  • Plan your meals around your veg­eta­bles, and then add fruit, pro­tein, dairy, and/or grains.
  • Add some cold-water fish to your diet (tuna, salmon, mack­er­el, hal­ibut, sar­dines, and her­ring), which con­tain omega-3 fat­ty acids.
  • Go to the Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture web­site at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ to learn what a por­tion-size is, so you don’t overeat.
  • Try to eat more foods low on the Glycemic Index (learn more at www.glycemicindex.com).
  • If you can only do one thing, eat more veg­eta­bles, par­tic­u­lar­ly leafy green ones.


Stress man­age­ment:

  • Get reg­u­lar car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise.
  • Try to get enough sleep each night (i.e. six to eight hours).
  • Stay con­nect­ed with friends and fam­i­ly.
  • Prac­tice med­i­ta­tion, yoga, or some oth­er calm­ing activ­i­ty as a way to take a relax­ing time-out.
  • Try train­ing with a heart rate vari­abil­i­ty sen­sor, like the one in the emWave® Stress Man­age­ment pro­grams.
  • If you can only do one thing, set aside 5–10 min­utes a day to just breathe deeply and recharge.


Phys­i­cal Exer­cise:

  • Start by talk­ing to your doc­tor, espe­cial­ly if you are not cur­rent­ly phys­i­cal­ly active, have spe­cial health con­cerns, or are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to your cur­rent pro­gram.
  • Set a goal that you can achieve. Do some­thing you enjoy for even just 15 min­utes a day; you can always add more time and vari­ety lat­er.
  • Sched­ule exer­cise into your dai­ly rou­tine. It will become a habit faster if you do.
  • If you can only do one thing, do some­thing car­dio­vas­cu­lar, i.e. some­thing that gets your heart beat­ing faster. This includes walk­ing, run­ning, ski­ing, swim­ming, bik­ing, hik­ing, ten­nis, bas­ket­ball, play­ing tag, ulti­mate Fris­bee, and oth­er sim­i­lar sports/activities.

Men­tal Stim­u­la­tion:

  • Do a vari­ety of things, includ­ing things you are not good at for nov­el­ty (if you like to sing, try paint­ing or danc­ing).
  • Be curi­ous! Get to know your local library and com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, look for local orga­ni­za­tions that offer class­es and work­shops, or join a book club.
  • Work puz­zles like cross­words and sudoku or play games like chess and bridge. How­ev­er, make sure to intro­duce nov­el­ty and vari­ety — doing more of the same is not what helps most.

This online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (2013), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

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