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With Brain Awareness Week around the corner, it’s probably a good idea to reflect on our brain health, and the ways that we can better look after it. We only get one, y’know.
The 13th to 19th of March is Brain Awareness Week, and with around 413,000 Aussies living with dementia today (according to the National Institute of Dementia Research), there’s no better time to focus on increasing public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.
We all know the importance of exercising our muscles and eating well to keep our body in tip-top health, but we often overlook the health of our brain and what it needs to continue functioning at its optimum.
Generally speaking, mental decline starts before our 40th birthday, but with continuous mental stimulation, we can protect our brain from this decline. The way to achieve this is by challenging ourselves to learn new skills, as this helps stimulate the parts of our brain that we don’t tend to use every single day.
As the Founder and CEO of Care For Family, Ruth Samer understands the importance of maintaining a healthy brain to ward off brain diseases. Here are some of the key habits she recommends we integrate into our day-to-day lives to help sustain optimal brain health.
Stimulate your brain
Completing puzzles, drawing and painting are all great ways of encouraging mental stimulation. Learning how to use technology, such as tablets and smartphones is also a great way to challenge the brain (and useful since it can help people stay in closer contact with family!). If the television remote is your go-to source of entertainment, try opting for a book instead. These activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells, which ultimately provides a hedge against future cell loss.
When you increase your heart rate you’ll pump more oxygen to your brain, which then stimulates the growth of new cell connections. For this reason, exercise is a great way to enhance your brain health. Getting your huffy puffy done in the mornings can also spike brain activity and prepare you for any mental stresses that may occur throughout the day.
Of course, exercise needn’t be regimented. You can add some incidental exercise into your day simply by using the stairs instead of the elevators or taking a brisk walk during your lunch break. Or, choose a café that’s further away to buy your coffee from. Just 12 minutes of exercise can result in a surge in serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, which are the chemicals that make you feel really good! Exercise is also an effective way to de-stress both your mind and body.
Watch your wellbeing
For the purposes of brain health, it’s recommended that you limit your consumption of alcohol and coffee, don’t smoke or use illegal drugs. When you enjoy physical activity, always adopt a “safety first” attitude and wear a helmet, drive safely and take any head injury seriously. Keep a regular eye on your wellbeing by having regular checks for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and heart rate.
Manage your stress
Research has found that in animals, stress hormones can kill nerve cells, and it is believed this can also occur in humans. The truth is, stress can be a killer! So it’s critical that you know how to manage your stress and anxiety effectively.
With around 14% of Australians affected by an anxiety disorder, it’s important to know what de-stressing techniques work best for you. Whether it’s meditation, sleep, exercise – figure out what works and then commit to maintaining a good routine that involves these elements. Routine can help protect the brain against anxiety and confusion, which can be especially helpful for seniors and their caregivers.
We often forget that our brain is a high-performance machine and therefore it deserves the highest quality fuel available. According to researchers at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, there is growing evidence that eating the right foods for your brain can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by approximately a third. Some of the foods they suggest for a healthy brain are fish, poultry, nuts, vegetables, beans, berries, olive oil and whole grains.
Your brain needs a healthy and balanced diet that is low in cholesterol and low in saturated animal fat. It also requires glucose, to ensure a steady rate of blood supply to your brain. Glucose is the main fuel necessary to keep your brain cells alive and functioning, as it provides the energy required for brain proteins to build cells and produce chemicals for nerves to effectively communicate and repair damage. This glucose can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, grains, pasta, shellfish and legumes.
Brain Awareness Week works towards securing further research into brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and anxiety disorders, which affect a large number of Australians. So let’s use this week to kick off a new healthy regime to encourage and sustain optimal brain health.