ASK ANY ONE OF US to recite principles for keeping our blood pressure under control or ensuring good heart health, and we could probably do a pretty good job with the answers. But what about promoting good brain health?
What actually do we know about the gray matter inside our heads? OK—so we know the brain is made up of about 77 percent water. We may also know the brain is our thought and memory center. We are aware that scary things can happen in our brains, such as strokes, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. But generally the brain is shrouded in mystery for most of us, and we don’t know much about how it works or how to take good care of it.
“I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” Psalm 139:14, HCSB
THINK ABOUT THIS
As we go through life, the central mission of the brain never changes. Its job is to help make sense of the world around us through information management, logic, judgment, perspective, and common sense. An individual’s creativity, wisdom, and personality remain pretty constant their entire lives, with wisdom actually increasing as we get older. Brain health has to do with the ability to remember, learn, plan, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind.
There is no magic pill. It boils down to lifestyle choices.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN YOUNG
It’s true that our brains change with age. One of the most feared consequences of aging is mental decline. But by taking steps to help keep the whole body healthy, we can enhance life now and also help cut down on some risks to the brain as we age. There is no magic pill, herb, or elixir that is 100 percent guaranteed to improve memory or brain health. It boils down to some simple lifestyle choices. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
1. Keep Moving: The type of activity doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting your heart pumping for 30 minutes most days. Being active, especially outside in the fresh air and sunshine, promotes good circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, particularly to the region responsible for clearness of thought. Exercise also releases those wonderful feel-good endorphins, which help elevate the mood and aid in putting life stresses into more positive perspectives.
2. Exercise Your Mind:
Brain activities stimulate connections between nerve cells. Studies have shown that this can even help the brain generate new cells, thus building up a functional reserve that can provide a hedge against future cell loss. Any stimulation—such as doing puzzles, figuring out math problems, engaging in creative crafts, reading, memorizing, or learning new skills that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort—can result in more efficient and adaptive brain performance.
3. Forget the Stereotype: Believing in the popular assumption that you are going to become more forgetful as you get older may just become a self-fulfilling prediction.
Studies show that our thoughts and expectations about ourselves definitely affect our abilities, skills, and performance patterns. This principle is mentioned in the Bible (see
Proverbs 23:7). Negative ideas of aging are rooted deep in society, and we need to beware lest these expectations become our expectations too. Thinking young can help
you avoid harmful, aged stereotypes and stop you from thinking of yourself as old and ending up behaving old.
4. Choose Brain Health Foods: A diet rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, beans, and nuts, and low in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids,
and cholesterol from animal sources, has been shown to be the best choice for both your heart and brain. Also important in lowering the risk of mental decline is keeping your calories in check in order to maintain a healthy body weight. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
5. Control Those All-Important Numbers:
a. Keep your pressure down. Stay lean, exercise regularly, and do all you can to keep your blood pressure as low as possible. Elevated blood pressure can add to the risk of cognitive decline as one ages.
b. Stay just sweet enough. Diabetes is also a risk factor for dementia. Diet, exercise, and in some cases medication can all help keep blood sugar levels controlled.
c. Clean up those arteries. Diet, exercise, and weight control (and sometimes medication) will help keep your bad cholesterol (LDL) level down and the good cholesterol (HDL) up. Both these levels, if not controlled, can be risk factors for developing dementia.
6. Smile and Laugh More:
Smiling is easy to do, and it’s free. It encourages positive changes in areas of the brain associated with memory. Smiling can be a mood booster. It helps release those
hormones that make you feel good, which in turn can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and protect against the harmful effects of stress, depression, and anxiety. Smiling is contagious and can lead to laughter. Perhaps you have heard that laughter is the best medicine (Proverbs 17:22). It can be an instant mood-lifter, energizing the body and acting as a tonic for the brain. It’s recommended that you smile at least five times daily. Find ways daily to have fun, and enjoy a good laugh or two as well.
7. Get Those Zs: While you sleep without the distraction of outside stimulation, the brain has a peaceful, calm opportunity to process all the information it acquired during the day. It sorts through it all and stores those memories and data in the brain circuits. When you don’t get adequate sleep this process is incomplete, and the effects are felt the next day in a slower mental response to situations. This can include impaired memory recall, decision making, and motor functions, such as driving a vehicle. You will feel mentally groggy, sluggish, and even grumpy. Help your brain at night by eating a light meal early in the evening and then taking time to unwind mentally and physically. Avoid looking at computer, TV, or mobile phone screens just before going to bed, as the blue light from these electronic devices can stimulate the brain into wakefulness. Seven to eight hours has been shown to provide a good night’s rest for the whole body system.
8. Avoid Bumps and Bruises: Our fragile brains are encased in a strong, protective bone structure called the skull. But the brain can still suffer physical injury in the case of falls, violent shaking, or blows to the head. Moderate to severe head injuries can often result in headaches, loss of memory and clear thinking, and/or impaired motor function. Wear protective head gear when riding a bike, motorcycle, or recreational vehicle, and when engaging in a contact sport or otherwise physically risky activity.
9. Pick Up the Phone: Stay connected with family and friends. Studies show that social activities and connectedness positively impact good brain health by building joy and a sense of purpose and usefulness into one’s life. Family gatherings, attending church and community functions, becoming engaged in service to others—all these can bring new energy and vitality to the whole being.
10. Talk to Your Doctor: If you have questions or concerns about your brain health, make an appointment with your doctor. Changes in brain function, including short-term memory loss, do happen. Headaches, dizziness, or any symptom that is out of the ordinary should always be investigated.
We don’t have to sit back and hope for the best as we go through life. By tapping into the important lifestyle principles handed down to us by our wise and loving Creator, we can do much to strengthen and prolong our physical and mental abilities. Simple choices and good habits can make a big difference.