Lifestyle choices for brain health

Living a brain healthy lifestyle is particularly important once you reach middle age, as this is the time when changes in the brain start to occur. They may start decades before symptoms appear. This means that it is important to look after the brain throughout your life. It is never too late or too early […]

Living a brain healthy lifestyle is particularly important once you reach middle age, as this is the time when changes in the brain start to occur. They may start decades before symptoms appear. This means that it is important to look after the brain throughout your life. It is never too late or too early to bring lifestyle changes as brain function can be improved at any age.

Exercise your brain: Any activity that involves thinking, learning and active networking regularly challenges your brain. These stimulating activities can improve your brain health. The best activities are those that you enjoy. Hobbies like painting, woodwork , sewing, knitting and writing provide stimulus to the brain.  Doing jigsaw puzzles, crossword , suduko, chess , card games learning to dance , playing an instrument, learning a new language challenge the brain.

Regular and enjoyable interaction with friends like travelling , volunteering with a local charity, walking with friends and family, joining a book club, catching up with friends and talking to your neighbours is active networking which is beneficial to the brain. Passive networking such as Whattsapp or Facebook do not give such benefits.

Physical exercise is neuro-protective: Regular physical exercise can reduce the risk of Dementia. It can also slow down further deterioration in those who are showing early symptoms of Dementia. Exercise for 30 mins, walk, jog, cycle,hike,swim or join a dance group….. not gyming !! To avoid risk of fall balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile. Exercises like Yoga , Pilates, Tai chi go a long way to improve balance and coordination and avoid fall or head injury.

You can also introduce exercise in your daily routine by taking some simple steps. Walk while you are on your mobile phone, take stairs instead of lift. If you have to work for long hours while sitting on a desk, take frequent breaks and walk around or stand up for a couple of minutes.  Some of the offices are providing standing work stations in the place of work and conference rooms. Opt for that option if available , or request for that healthy change in your work place.

The human brain is an organ which improves through mental stimulation. It continues to adapt, grow and rewire itself through the growth of new neurons. Using your non-dominant hand to write, use is to control computer mouse, television remote, brushing your teeth, opening doors etc will strengthen neural connections. Exercise also improves body posture . Walking with a hunch slows down your gait is associated with increase risk of Dementia. There is clear evidence that physical exercise helps in sprouting of neurons to prevent neuro-generative disease like Alzheimer’s.

Healthy Diet: The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain functions. Indian home cooked diet of Roti ,dal ,legumes vegetables , salads ( washed well) is good for brain health. Red meats, beef , pork and chicken should be limited in your daily intake.  Fish could be included in your diet but make sure it is not bred in toxic waters with high content of mercury. All Vegetables and fruits of different colours like capsicum, green, yellow and red, cabbage , green leafy vegetables , zucchini , cauliflower, kale, carrots , brocolli ( it has glutathione a very powerful antioxidant, which prevents memory decline) and fruits like apples guava, mangoes, pears, grapes bananas etc should be included in our diet regularly.

Antioxidant-rich berries that can boost brain health: Include strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and mulberries in your diet. Eating more nuts and seeds may be good for the brain, as these foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants and healthful unsaturated fats .  Walnuts and Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds and peanuts can give you protection against chronic diseases.
Sunflower seeds,flaxseed and chia seeds also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Eggs are a source of  vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folic acid. Recent research suggests that these vitamins may prevent brain shrinkage and delay cognitive decline.

Yoghurt :  Yoghurt contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. These bacteria stimulates the Vagus nerve, and that, in turn stimulates the production of various neurotransmitters , which get depleted under stress.

Turmeric: Turmeric is a super spice. It contains Curcumin a natural anti- inflammatory compound and a potent antioxidant. It keeps the memory sharp, boosts the brain and helps it to heal.

Healthy oils: Include healthy oils in your diets such as mustard oil , peanut oil,sunflower oil , soyabean oil, olive oil and a small amount of Ghee. Palm oil is unhealthy and is used mostly in bakery products like cakes, biscuits , sweets etc. Also these processed food have high sugar and salt content which is unhealthy as it promotes obesity , diabetes and high cholesterol which is toxic to brain and body .
Avoid snacking on junk food, sugary drinks, sweets and inculcate this habit in children as it will provide many benefits to them in their mid life and beyond in protecting their brain health.

Sleep Deprivation:
Sleep is absolutely essential for good mental health. Sleep is not a passive but active function of the brain.
In the daytime we all make Beta amyloid proteins in the brain. During sleep the brain cells known as glymphatics enlarge and pulsate to remove toxins from the brain. Due to lack of sleep the brain does not have enough time to drain beta amyloids and other neuro toxic waste . These substances continue to accumulate day after day in form of plaques and tangles in the brain, which is the main cause of Alzheimer’s disease . Harmful effects of inadequate sleep can start at the age of 50 if not earlier. It is essential to have 6-8 hours of sleep. Avoid sleeping pills as it does not give you the deep sleep required for memory consolidation in the permanent memory centres of brain.

Quit Smoking: Smoking or inhaling of tobacco smoke or passive smoking has been linked to oxidative stress. Due to this the risk of Alzheimer’s/ Dementia becomes significantly higher. Brain uses 20% of body oxygen supply from the blood. Smoking damages the structures of blood vessels making it harder for the blood to flow freely around body and brain. Due to this the brain is deprived of oxygen rich blood supply and the brain cells do not get adequate nutrients to survive, thrive and resist damage.

Alcohol in moderation: Long term exposure to excessive alcohol can shrink the brain. It can change a person’s typical behaviour without mental clarity , interfere with his or her long term memory and may cause hallucinations. All these factors can substantially increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s/ Dementia.

Laughter is the best medicine: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel good chemicals. Endorphins promote overall sense of well-being and de-stress the brain. So how do we bring more laughter in our lives? Practice smiling at someone like your coworkers or someone you meet regularly in the lift or bus. You will notice that smile like laughter is contagious. When you hear laughter move towards it. Spend time with playful friends. Join a laughter club.  Learn to laugh at yourself to make an embarrassing moment funny. Put up a funny poster in your home or office. Choose a computer screen saver which makes you laugh. You may think of countless other ways of humour to improve the brain health. Laughter is also as effective as antipsychotic medications for reducing anxiety in the elderly people with Dementia.