How to boost brain health, keep your brain healthy, active and ways to care for your brain and train your brain.
In today’s stressful, fast-track, hi-tech world, the need to keep your mind healthy, focused and strong has never seemed more important, whatever your age and stage of life.
The latest research from across the world shows that the way we choose to live now can, over time, be toxic for the brain. Pollution, household chemicals, pesticides and eating processed foods can play havoc; so too can a build-up of bacteria, viruses and parasites and the cumulative effects of the electro-magnetic stress from the white goods, computers, phones and wifi that surround us. Add in the state of your spine, your ears, eyes and teeth, and the overwhelm becomes – overwhelming! With cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia soaring, and no pharmaceutical cure available, what can you do to optimise your chances of keeping your brain in tip top shape deep into your older years?
Reassuringly, neuroscience, the rapidly growing science of the mind, shows that brain cells can be grown at any stage of life. It’s never too late. Improving your neural circuits and boosting your brain can be very simple – and inexpensive to boot.
- Use the opposite hand
Using your opposite hand instead of the one you are comfortable with can help your brain to integrate its two hemispheres and develop new neural pathways and connections. Studies using brain scanners show that when you use your stronger hand just one side of your brain is engaged. When you use the opposite non-dominant hand, however, both hemispheres light up. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand, or use a different hand to control your computer mouse. Wash the dishes differently. Switch hands and switch on your brains unused pathways.
- Brain Boosting Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can be a powerful way to reboot your brain and improve brain function. Scents in specific essential oils stimulate parts of the brain that control memories and emotion. Northumbria University carried out a study with a group of elderly participants and found that merely being in a room diffused with the smell of rosemary boosted memory scores by 15 per cent.
30 minutes of moderate exercise daily has been shown to increase the production of new synapses (the junction between two nerve cells) in your brain and studies have demonstrated that regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate is one of the best ways to encourage neuroplasticity in the brain.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) stimulates BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), the ‘brain fertilizer’ protein that triggers new brain cell growth. BDNF increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and boosts the mitochondria in your neurons, the tiny ‘batteries’ that power your brain. Regular exercise – even half an hour three times a week – can increase its levels by 300 per cent. People who exercise have been shown to have less deterioration in their brains than people who don’t.
Did you know that meditating lights up your frontal lobes – the area for problem solving and impulse control – and develops the areas of the brain related to attention and sensory processing? Meditators have higher volumes of brain tissue, reduced brain inflammation, well balanced neurotransmitters and less stress.
- Listen to Binaural Beats
Listening to a form of sound wave therapy called binaural beats boosts the main hormones responsible for brain health in older age, DHEA and melatonin, by between 50 and 100 per cent and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, in half.
running increases blood flow to the brain CREDIT:WUNDERVISUALS
- Start Running
A study from the New Mexico Highlands University found that ‘foot impact’, the striking of your foot on the ground, increases blood flow to the brain. So, although cycling or rowing can increase oxygen levels to your brain, walking and running (which has an even stronger foot strike) had additional benefits, building grey matter volume and strengthening overall cognitive skills.
- Spinal checks
Adjustments by osteopaths and chiropractors can improve brain function, and especially the functioning of your pre-frontal cortex which controls decision making, focus and intelligence. If you are suffering from brain fog, anxiety, depression or frequent headaches, your back may be a good place to start.
How many hours do you sleep each night? Too little or too much and your brain simply doesn’t work properly. In one study of more than 9,000 people, less than six hours sleep or more than eight hours sleep resulted in a reduction of memory function and decision-making ability. 7-7.5 hours seems to be optimal.
- Get your ears checked
Research has shown that there is a connection between hearing loss and brain decline and the development of dementia. The University of Colorado found that when hearing loss occurred, although the brain rewired itself, handing the areas that usually deal with hearing over to sections that process touch or vision, the hearing parts of the brain were considerably weakened. Turn on the hearing aids, however, and a neuroplastic adjustment takes place within your brain that reverses any damage.
- Drink more water
Your brain is 73 per cent water and even loss of fluid equal to 2 per cent of your body weight has been shown to affect decision making and create problems with focus and memory. 75 per cent of us are regularly dehydrated, which can trigger depression, chronic fatigue and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
- Book in for a yoga session and breathe
Pranayama breathing will oxygenate your brain and clear your nasal passages. Research also shows that breathing through your nose instead of your mouth enhances memory consolidation.
- Get your eyes checked
When your sight weakens, so does your brain processing power, which relies on your eyes to feed it precise information. If your eyes are not in top condition the messages your brain picks up will be similarly fuzzy, and your brain’s responses will be far slower than they should be.
- Stimulate your tongue
The tongue is where two of the most important meridians in the body meet. Brain fog and memory issues can be treated by boosting energy flow in the area with a series of acupuncture sessions. Stimulating the tongue with an electric pulse has also been shown to activate the neural network in the brain in charge of balance, and can help multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and stroke patients improve their muscle control.
- Experiment with light therapy
The Vielight 810 is a small machine that attaches to your nose and sends a near infrared light up into your brain, pulsing at 10 Hz, the frequency that repairs brain cells and neural networks. Photons of light go deep into the brain’s ventral areas where dopamine, which controls sleep, is made, and also triggering the release of serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter.
- Learn to Cross Crawl
Cross Crawl exercises use opposite sides of the body. For example on all fours lift your right arm and left leg, then reverse. Exercises like this strengthen communication signals between your body and brain, boosting brain function in the process. The movement fires up neural pathways in the right and left side of your brain at the same time, building a connective path between the two sides of the brain and boosting clarity of thought, focus and spatial awareness.
Like paying regular instalments into your pension scheme, adding ‘Brain Gym’ time into your weekly schedule is an essential long-term investment in your future; top up your hours, little by little, and you can relax in your retirement, reaping the benefits of your earlier efforts when you most need them.
Reboot Your Brain by Sara Davenport is published on the 6th February. For information about pre-order, check here.