How to Keep Your Brain Fit

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Oct 22, 2014 by British Blog

Huge strides have been taken in medical research in recent years and as a result more and more of us are living long, healthy and fulfilling lives. However, as the 'old enemies' like cancer slowly succumb to science, more individuals are living long enough to face another challenge - cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.

The National Health Service now views Alzheimer's as a key public health issue, comparable with cancer and heart disease, and has been allocating increased resources to fighting and, hopefully, preventing it.

The trouble is that Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain, and the human brain is still largely mysterious, even to scientists. That limits the amount of advice that doctors can confidently give to patients who want to keep their brains fit for purpose.

However, brain research has been a hot topic for a while now and evidence is beginning to emerge that yes, there are some things you can do that may well improve your long-term brain function. Here are a few of them.

 

Use It

The advice to 'use or lose' your brainpower has been around for a while, but it is supported by research. A team from University College, London, studied London taxi drivers and found that they developed an enhanced hippocampus (the part of the brain that deals with memory and spatial awareness) after years of studying 'the knowledge' and learning routes around a massive, complex city. Furthermore, enhancement of the hippocampus continued throughout the time the subjects worked as cabbies.

Other studies suggest that people with greater levels of education and/or skills are less likely than others to develop Alzheimer's. Social interaction and mental stimulation are also thought to be helpful.

Traditionally, people who want to enhance brain function have been told to do puzzles to keep the mind active. That is still good advice, but it is not a complete strategy, nor are puzzles the only way to keep the brain 'moving'. Some scientists suggest that merely doing 'normal' things in a slightly different way – eg, if you are right handed, doing things with your left hand instead - can be helpful. Having an absorbing hobby, especially if it requires you to focus, is also good.

 

Sleep Well

Emerging evidence seems to suggest a link between sleep quality and long-term brain function. Given that poor sleep is, in any case, associated with several undesirable outcomes, it seems sensible to make sufficient, good quality sleep a priority.

 

Eat Well

Physical exercise and good nutrition help to reduce the risk of circulatory disorders and stroke, which can seriously damage brain function. Therefore, it also makes sense to manage high blood pressure and cholesterol and to stop smoking.

 

Beware of Damage

The modern environment contains several toxins known to harm the brain. Young brains are particularly vulnerable to these, but older brains can be damaged, too. Such toxins include recreational drugs and alcohol, along with chemicals like lead, mercury and some pesticides.

There is one other matter to bear in mind. Older people are better at solving problems than younger folk, because they have more information and neural pathways in their brains. Seeking a 'younger', fitter brain is all very well - but let us not overlook the benefits of age and experience!