The best way to keep your brain in shape as you head into later life is to take measures now that will help to prevent the onset of brain diseases. There isn’t one magic activity that will ensure your brain stays sharp and healthy, but you can do a mixture of things to reduce the chances of developing a brain-related disease in later life.
This list looks at some of the most common and easiest activities you can try that will keep your brain in good shape. Some of these are well-known tips, and some are backed by medical research and are proven to help with promoting positive cognitive function and development.
1. Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Quality Sleep
One of the biggest factors that can have a significant impact on the health of your brain while it's developing and in later life is how many hours sleep you get every night. It’s important to note though, that the quality of the sleep you are getting is more important than the number of hours. Research suggests that people in their 20’s need more sleep than those who are aged 60 or over. Over 60’s need around 7-8 hours of good sleep per night. A study by the CDC found that sleeping for less than 7 hours a night was associated with many different health issues including high blood pressure, stroke, and death.
Some tips that can help you get a better night's sleep include keeping to a routine and not looking at your phone or doing any work for 2 hours before bed. It might also be useful to use a blue light filter on your mobile if you do tend to check it before going to sleep.
Another great tip is making sure that your room is the correct temperature for sleeping comfortably. The perfect temperature range for sleep is said to be 15°C - 19°C. If you have a thermostat, this can be useful to help maintain a consistent temperature. If not, you can use desk fans or keep windows open overnight to keep your room cool.
2. Find the Right Balance For Your Diet and Eat the Right Foods
It’s been known for many years that certain foods or nutrients can have a positive impact on your general health and more specifically, the health of your brain. Included in the list of foods that are good for your brain are cold-water and oily fish.
The omega-3 fatty acids that they contain are essential for good brain function and health. The brain contains these acids in cell membranes, and so maintaining the correct levels of these fatty acids is crucial for ongoing communication between brain cells. It's also thought that the acids contained in omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, could improve brain function of people that suffer from brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.
Other foods that are said to be useful for keeping a healthy brain include leafy green vegetables. These vegetables contain a lot of great nutrients that help to maintain a high level of cognitive function. Eating healthy in general is a good idea but introducing more brain-friendly foods like blueberries, beans, and citrus fruits will help to keep your mind at its best. You should also try to cut down on saturated fats and replace them with healthy fats from plants like sunflower oil and olive oil.
3. Do Regular Activities to Keep Your Brain Active
Doing activities that will keep your brain active and working hard is a great way to promote good brain health and keep it sharp during later life. One of the best things you can do is learn new skills or further your education. Academic study is said to stimulate activity between individual brain cells and give your brain a full work out by creating new pathways.
Where some people may get this kind of mental stimulation from a job that requires a lot of technical thinking and problem solving, some people may find that studying is better suited to them if they don’t get this kind of satisfaction in their day-to-day work.
With the rise in online learning, studying has never been so easy. There are many universities that offer their courses on the internet that are fully accredited and recognised by employers. You may choose to study a course that will help to further your career like an MBA or family NP online programs. Alternatively, you could choose to study a course that you are interested in just for fun that has a more vocational approach.
4. Quit Smoking and Cut down on Alcohol
Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle goes beyond getting the right exercise and eating healthily. You also need to protect your body, and your brain, from other potential harms which include smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. It’s well known that smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer and is harmful to vital organs such as the brain and lungs as well as other important organs.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also have a severe impact on the brain, especially when alcohol is abused over a long period of time. Drinking too much alcohol has been cited as a significant risk factor for dementia.
Consuming low levels of alcohol is the best way to minimise any harm that alcohol may cause. Alcohol consumption guidelines set by the UK government are set using the units of alcohol in one serving as a measure. The official guidelines for alcohol consumption are as follows.
- The safe limit is the same for both men and women and states that no more than 14 units of alcohol should be drank over the period of one week
- If it is the case that you consume 14 units a week regularly, then you should try to spread this consumption out over a minimum of 3 days for the whole week
By way of a guide, fourteen units are roughly the same as drinking 6 pints of regular strength beer or lager and 10 small glasses of wine that is of lower strength.
5. Ensure Your Get Plenty of Exercise Every Week
A good weekly workout is great for your brain as it will increase blood flow around the body and to your brain. Regular exercise is a good habit to get into anyway as it will ensure your whole body stays healthy, not just your brain.
The NHS guidelines for weekly exercise are an excellent way to measure what you’re doing now against what you should be doing to keep healthy. The guidelines for people in the UK are 150 minutes of light exercise every week which could be as simple as cycling to work or walking the dog. In addition to this, you should also be aiming to do strength exercises to help strengthen the critical muscles in your body. Strength exercises on muscles like your hips, back and chest should be done at least twice a week if not more.
For those who are already active or who are able to do more vigorous exercise, then the good news is that you need to do less time every week. Rather than 150 minutes of light exercise, you could replace this with 70 minutes of vigorous exercise like running or playing sports like football and tennis. Of course, it isn't an either-or, and you could do a mixture of vigorous and gentle exercise to hit your weekly goals.
6. Build Wider Social Circles and Try to Be More Sociable
Even people who are shy and timid are designed to be sociable. Humans are sociable creatures and crave the stimulation of other humans. In fact, it’s so important that research was carried out to find the effects of regular socialisation on the brain. The outcome of that research found that people with an active social life had a reduced risk of developing brain-related diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. The finding suggested that much like when learning a new skill or stimulating your brain like challenging it through academic study, socialising helps to build more neural circuits.
Sometimes it can be difficult to build these social relationships. Older people who are housebound or people that live in remote areas often find it difficult to socialise. Tips for developing a broader and more active social life include finding clubs for hobbies that you already enjoy. For example, if you enjoy gardening there may be a local gardening club that you can join and attend every week.
Another good option that will also help you to get your recommended weekly exercises is to join a sports club. Not all clubs require lots of physical activity. Football, rugby and cycling clubs may be good for younger people who are still quite physically active. For older people, places like bowling or dancing classes may be a more suitable and enjoyable activity.
7. Challenge Yourself More by Learning a New Skill
Much like taking an online course to learn a new profession or to do a new job, learning a new skill will also help you to stimulate your brain. Every time you challenge your mind by learning something new, you create new neural circuits. The advantage of building and creating more neural circuits is that it makes it harder for neurodegenerative diseases to take hold and make changes to your brain.
There any many different things that you could try if you want to give this a go. One of the most common things that people do is learn an instrument or learn a new language. These are great because they often take a long time, so will keep you occupied for a good number of months or even years. With a language especially, the learning can be ongoing if you visit a foreign country regularly on holiday.
Other things you might want to try are learning to cook or putting yourself in a situation where you need to really use your brain, such as orienteering, sailing or computer coding. If you are not particularly active, then even doing something like a crossword or a sudoku puzzle every day can help to keep your brain healthy and active.
8. Be Mindful of Your Mental Health and Keep Your Stress Levels Down
It's been suggested that due to the hormones that are secreted when people get stressed that older brains can be affected by stress more than younger brains. Keeping stress levels to a minimum when in later life should, therefore, be a priority. Sometimes stress can be unavoidable, and you may not see it coming. Bad news at work or a death in the family all contribute to high-stress levels. The impact that stress has is that it can take you longer to deal with and get over your emotions.
It’s not just stress that can have a negative impact on your body and your brain. Anxiety is also an important emotion to try and manage as is depression. These kinds of conditions can have a big impact on your mental health but can also have negative effects on brain function; the impact may not be direct.
For instance, people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress can sometimes have trouble looking after themselves properly. This might mean not eating healthily and not getting enough exercise. It’s when these things start to happen that the brain can become effected. It’s already been said how healthy eating and exercise are important to maintain a healthy brain.
9. Keeping Your Brain Healthy Throughout Life
Just like every other part of your body, your brain needs to be looked after and needs a workout to help keep it healthy and in good shape. Many of the activities that you can try are very easy and can be incorporated into daily life. Walking the dog every day, eating a healthy lunch and learning a new skill during your lunch break are all great ways to keep your brain active and reduce the risks of getting brain-related diseases like dementia.