02 Jan Improve Brain Function with 8 Essential Habits
Guest Blog by Heather McNally *
I am sure you want to keep your brain active and your memory sharp for as long as possible. It is exciting to realize there is scientific evidence that YOU CAN change your brain. You are not stuck with the brain you have now. In the past decades, brain scientists have shown that every thought, movement and emotion is associated with brain change. Therefore by changing your life, you can change your brain.
Unfortunately, we are creatures of habit, even bad habits. Lifestyle change is hard. Here are some positive lifestyle habits for brain change and how you can make them a part of your life.
- Exercise vigorously enough to increase your heart rate. Start at 30 min 3 times each week and increase to daily. Make this possible by getting an exercise buddy; making exercise fun by joining a Zumba or aqua-fit class; or with a fitness trainer to ensure motivation and accountability.
- Keep your blood pressure low. Buy a home BP cuff and monitor your BP daily. If it is high, decrease salt in your diet, reduce your weight to your ideal, exercise daily, and if your BP remains high, seek medical attention.
- Get enough sleep. Most studies recommend 7-8 hours of sleep for adults and 9.5 hours adolescents. Promote sleep by exercising in the day, developing a bedtime ritual, eliminating light and noise, and keeping your bedroom cool.
- Challenge your brain with new learning of a musical instrument, language, or people’s names. Spend 30 minutes daily of efficient tailored brain training with an online program, such as BrainHQ. It was developed by a group of scientists to improve many specific areas of brain function. Numerous studies show this training reduces dementia risk.
- Have a new adventure, however small, every day. See the world with a sense of curiosity, wonder and gratitude.
- Make new friends and have parties. This is not only fun, but improves your communication skills and mood. Potlucks are my favorite as they are less work and stress.
- Reduce stress by focusing on the present. You cannot change the past or predict the future, so it is unhelpful to worry about them. Avoid rumination by doing something active that works for you, whether it is walking in nature, or having coffee with a friend.
- Deliberately relax at least ten minute each day. Use a method that works for you whether yoga, meditation or just singing in the shower. Simply knowing all the evidence for the benefits of mindfulness meditation may not be enough to create a daily habit. Try using the meditation app: Headspace (there are several others).
This plasticity of the brain works both ways. If you develop healthy brain habits and live your life accordingly, your brain will grow and thrive. However, if you stop exercising and learning, let your blood pressure or weight creep up, get inadequate sleep, or start avoiding social activities, then your brain will shrink.
The choice is yours!
SOFT-WIRED How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Changes Your Life by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD
Get More POWER from your BRAIN by Eileen Pease
* Heather McNally MD. Graduated from Dalhousie Medical school and practiced medicine in a variety of medical settings for nearly 20 years. She lives in Wolfville, NS where she is Chair of the Acadia Lifelong Learning (ALL) program. She has taught several courses on brain fitness through ALL.