I’m really enjoying watching “The Curious Mind” with Nigel Latta on TNVZ on demand at the moment, which is all about our amazing brains. An absolutely incredible body part that I have been fascinated with since I studied psychology at uni.
Scientists who study the brain – neuroscientists – continue to make important new discoveries about the brain, so much so that I reckon that if I did my psychology degree over again, large chunks of the content would probably bear little resemblance to what I studied.
As well as all the basic functions the brain performs, such as making sure we keep breathing, our brain also processes emotions, creates meaning, helps us learn and stores memories.
When we’re young our brains grow at a rapid rate and are busy creating neural connections, or links, between the various parts of the brain. Throughout our life, our amazing brains “prune” these connections by deleting those connections and pathways that we’re not using regularly, so it really is a case of “use it or lose it.” As we age, our brains shrink (particularly those parts associated with more complex mental tasks and learning) and blood flow to certain parts of the brain may also decrease. However, because of our brain’s “plastic” abilities, our brains can adapt, be developed and strengthened. To make the most of this capacity, particularly as we age, so that we can retain our ability to learn, perform complex mental tasks and hold onto our memory, we need to keep our brain in good shape. Fortunately, there’s plenty that we can do to help ourselves in this area.
In the episode of “The Curious Mind” that I watched last night, Nigel Latta mentioned the top 5 things we can do to keep our brain healthy:
We need to keep blood circulating around our bodies not only to keep our heart pumping and our limbs moving, but also to get the blood moving through our brain and keeping all of its parts working well. Exercising has so many benefits that it really has to be considered a “no brainer.” In addition to keeping our body and mind working efficiently, it has a positive impact on our mental health, elevates our mood and reduces stress – which not only help us feel good, it improves our overall health. The World Health Organisation recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
- How can you motivate yourself to make time for that?
- What would convince you of the importance of maintaining your brain and body health?
- What kinds of activity could you build into your life to help you achieve that goal?
- How can you make exercise/physical activity fun, social, useful or interesting?
Do new and different things (learning)
As comfortable as it can be to do same old same old, we are wired for novelty and our brains need this in order to stay healthy. In the book “The brain that changes itself” by Norman Doidge, travel, learning a musical instrument or a language are all ways he mentions which keep our brain running like a well-oiled machine. Our work might be able to do this too – provided that it challenges and stimulates us and presents us with plenty of novelty. The key is to keep things fresh and new.
Maintain/develop strong relationships
The health impacts of the quality of our relationships is well documented, however, did you know that by forging and maintaining positive relationships and keeping engaged socially helps keep our brain functioning well?
In addition to keeping the rest of our body working well, eating properly can also boost our brain health. Google “brain health” and there is a never-ending list of web references on this subject. The general consensus seems to be that the Mediterranean diet, such as eaten in the world’s “Blue Zones” is best.
Fatty fish such as salmon, blueberries, broccoli, nuts and seeds, avocadoes, tomatoes and eggs – these are all foods commonly sited as keeping our brain healthy. The good news: coffee, tea, red wine and dark chocolate (all in moderation) help too!
Get enough sleep
It’s generally thought that somewhere between 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night is a healthy amount for an adult. But getting this amount of sleep can sometimes be a challenge. Prioritising sleep will stand us in good stead over our life time, guaranteeing that we get the best out of our brain.
It’s got to be said that none of these sound very complicated or “out there.” And the great thing is that developing in all of these areas will also positively impact our wellbeing – helping us to feel good and function well overall.
Yet, we can sometimes struggle with the motivation to do the very things we know create better health and wellbeing – including that of our brain.
- How can you dial up your motivation to live a healthier life?
- What would adopting these healthy habits give you now and into your future?
- Is anything standing in your way of making healthy changes? If so, what?
- How will making these changes benefit you and those nearest and dearest to you?
- What could it help prevent?
- What could it open up for you?