Tips To Keep Your Brain Healthy
Changes to your body and brain are normal as you age. However, there are some things you can do to help slow any decline in memory and lower your risk of developing Alzheimers disease or other dementias. Here are five things I recommend to my patients in order of importance:
1. Exercise regularly.
The first thing I tell my patients is to keep exercising. Exercise has many known benefits, and it appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Multiple research studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimers disease.
We believe these benefits are a result of increased blood flow to your brain during exercise. It also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occur during aging, in effect reversing some of the problems.
Aim to exercise several times per week for 3060 minutes. You can walk, swim, play tennis or any other moderate aerobic activity that increases your heart rate.
2. Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep plays an important role in your brain health. There are some theories that sleep helps clear abnormal proteins in your brain and consolidates memories, which boosts your overall memory and brain health.
3. Eat a Mediterranean diet.
4. Stay mentally active.
5. Remain socially involved.
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How Do I Get Ready For A Brain Perfusion Scan
Let your healthcare provider know about all the medicines you are taking. Take all these medicines as you normally would, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise. Let your healthcare provider know about any changes in your medical condition, such as a recent fever.
If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, tell your healthcare provider. It might make sense to delay your test, because the radiation may pose a risk to your unborn child. Also, let your healthcare provider know if you are breastfeeding. An MRI, however, does not have any major known risks for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Before your exam, youll need to remove any metal objects, like hairpins or glasses. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to have your exam on an empty stomach.
Your healthcare provider will provide further instructions based on the specific type of brain perfusion scan youll be receiving.
Simple Steps To Keep Your Mind Sharp At Any Age
Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.
Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:
- staying physically active
- limiting alcohol to no more than one drink a day
- eating a Mediterranean style diet.
Memory and other cognitive changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to help maintain cognitive fitness. Here are several you might try.
1. Keep learning
A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active. Pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, volunteering or mentoring are additional ways to keep your mind sharp.
2. Use all your senses
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How Does The Brain Work
The brain sends and receives chemical and electrical signals throughout the body. Different signals control different processes, and your brain interprets each. Some make you feel tired, for example, while others make you feel pain.
Some messages are kept within the brain, while others are relayed through the spine and across the bodys vast network of nerves to distant extremities. To do this, the central nervous system relies on billions of neurons .
Sleep Helps Your Brain Regulate Your Appetite
By now, youve probably heard that regularly skimping on sleep can lead to weight gain. And while its true that most of us are more likely to snack on junk at night, and that being tired could make you more likely to skip your workout, those arent the only factors at play.
Just like how sleep prompts the release of growth hormone, snooze time also plays a major role in regulating the hormones that determine whether you feel like eating. Countless studies have shown that lack of sleep prompts your brain to release more ghrelin, the hormone that causes you to feel hungry. At the same time, too little sleep causes your brain to pump out less leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full.
Translation? When youre zonked, youre more likely to scarf down everything in sight. In fact, people who are sleep deprived tend to take in about 300 more calories per day compared to their well-rested counterparts.
That adds up to a pound gained in less than two weeksbut some research suggests that the effects could be even more dramatic. One University of Colorado-Boulder study found that just five days of sleep deprivation prompted people to load up on more comforting carbohydrates and pack on two pounds in the process.
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Stress Can Change The Size Of Your Brain
I bet you didnt know stress is actually the most common cause of changes in brain function. I was surprised to find this out when I looked into how stress affects our brains.
I also found some research that showed signs of brain size decreasing due to stress.
One study used baby monkeys to test the effects of stress on development and long-term mental health. Half the monkeys were cared for by their peers for 6 months while the other half remained with their mothers. Afterwards, the monkeys were returned to typical social groups for several months before the researchers scanned their brains.
For the monkeys who had been removed from their mothers and cared for by their peers, areas of their brains related to stress were still enlarged, even after being in normal social conditions for several months.
Although more studies are needed to explore this fully, its pretty scary to think that prolonged stress could affect our brains long-term.
Another study found that in rats who were exposed to chronic stress, the hippocampuses in their brains actually shrank. The hippocampus is integral to forming memories. It has been debated before whether Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can actually shrink the hippocampus, or people with naturally smaller hippocampuses are just more prone to PTSD. This study could point to the stress being a factor in actually changing the brain.
Fun And Games For The Brain
Getting older doesnt have to mean you settle for cognitive decline and eventual dementia. In fact, if you use what you learned in this article, you now know 20 more ways to keep your brain active as you age and have some fun along the way.
As long as you stay physically active, eat for brain health, and stay mentally and socially active, you can keep your brain engaged and healthy for the long run.
But do remember: at the end of the day, time spent on brain training games always incurs a cost.
In my own tests using the Memory Palace technique for the ultimate brain workout, Ive found that Tetris is better than, say, Fishdom. This conclusion might be purely anecdotal, but it could give you a metric for making your own decisions.
When I play Tetris, after the game ends, Im done. But when I play Fishdom, I sometimes have this part of my brain that is still lining up seashells and exploding bombs. Its not really something I want coming up in my awareness like that.
Tetris might not have this effect due to the nature of the game involving solving pieces so that they disappear without explosions.
Either way, they both allow for a little bit of entertainment while diffuse thinking takes place with some brain exercise.
I personally dont think either compare to the fun of using a Memory Palace. Thats why if you want to keep learning new things youll also need to improve your memory skills to help you hang on to that new vocabulary.
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Sleep Helps Your Brain Clear Out Harmful Toxins
The word toxin gets thrown around a lot these days. And in health-oriented circles, you can find endless solutions that are touted as effective for clearing out toxins in your body.
For now, its up for debate whether any of those things are actually effective. But when it comes to clearing out toxins, one thing that actually has been shown to work is sleep. At the same time that your brain is busy sending out growth hormones, consolidating memories, and forming creativity-boosting connections, its also busting out the vacuum to suck up any unwanted dirt and clear it away.
There is evidence the brain clears out toxic wastes accumulated during the day at night, through convective motion of the fluid that bathes the brain, according to Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. If you dont sleep, you wont get the molecular waste removed, he added.
Studies conducted on mice back in 2013 found that during sleep, the space between rodents brain cells actually expanded, allowing for the brain to sweep away harmful molecules that had built up throughout the day. And not just any harmful moleculeswere talking about ones that are associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
Sleep Helps Your Brain Cement Memories
Imagine if every single time you did or experienced something new throughout the day, you had to stop what you were doing to file the experience away in your short- or long-term memory file so you could recall it later when you needed it. Chances are, youd be spending so much time archiving your life that youd never actually get anything done.
Thanks to the power of sleep, you dont have to do that. Thats because snooze time is prime time for your brain to get busy processing memories. As you sleep, your brain works to solidify memories that you formed throughout the day. It also links these new memories to older ones, helping you make connections between different pieces of information to come up with new ideas.
Remember the stages of sleep we talked about earlier? Stages 1-4, the ones where you arent experiencing REM, are key for learning and the memory formation that comes with it. In fact, if you skimp out on non-REM sleep, your ability to learn new information plummets by as much as 40%, say experts at the National Institutes of Health. Thats because sleep deprivation interferes with your hippocampus, the part of your brain thats responsible for processing memories.
When youre sleeping, your brain decides what stuff from the day is worth keepingand whats worth forgetting about so you can free up space for taking in new information tomorrow.
Sleep Helps Your Brain Work Faster And More Accurately
You might already know this intuitively. When you stay up too late or fall behind on sleep, you end up caught in a dense cloud of brain fog. You know, the one that causes you to make mistakes that you know are dumb but cant seem to avoid, or that makes it harder than usual to figure simple stuff out.
Adequate quality shut-eye helps your brain fire on all cylinders when youre awake, so you can think and respond faster and with fewer mistakes. Likely, that could be because sleep is an opportunity for the neurons that youve been using all day to take a break and repair themselves before you start calling on them again tomorrow. Because everythingeven tiny neuronsneed to rest at some point.
But after theyve had a chance to chill, you have an easier time concentrating and remembering stuff. Youll also be less likely to phone it in when it comes time to solving a tough problem, according toone studyVerified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourcepublished in the National Library of Medicine.
When City University of New York researchers gave college students a series of math problems after a night of adequate sleep and then again after a night of too-little sleep, the students did equally well after each night. But after not getting enough sleep, students tended to choose less challenging problems.
What Is The Gray Matter And White Matter
Gray and white matter are two different regions of the central nervous system. In the brain, gray matter refers to the darker, outer portion, while white matter describes the lighter, inner section underneath. In the spinal cord, this order is reversed: The white matter is on the outside, and the gray matter sits within.
Gray matter is primarily composed of neuron somas , and white matter is mostly made of axons wrapped in myelin . The different composition of neuron parts is why the two appear as separate shades on certain scans.
Each region serves a different role. Gray matter is primarily responsible for processing and interpreting information, while white matter transmits that information to other parts of the nervous system.
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Hacks To Help You Fall Asleep
Part of this has to do with the fact that insulin sensitivity fluctuates during the day meaning our bodies actually metabolize food differently at different times of the day, she says. And though theres a lot more research thats needed to fully understand the connection between sleep and metabolism, its clear that theyre connected, she says and likely has a lot to do with why people who report getting worse sleep are more likely to be overweight.
The bottom line, says Bazil: sleep is not a waste of time and you cant get away without it.
When it comes to staying healthy, people pay a lot of attention to nutrition and physical activity, Bazil says which are both very important. But I would put sleep on that same level.
Exercise Is Just As Good For Your Brain As It Is For Your Body
Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to your brain. As your increased breathing pumps more oxygen into your bloodstream, more oxygen is delivered to your brain. This leads to neurogenesisor the production of neuronsin certain parts of your brain that control memory and thinking. Neurogenesis increases brain volume, and this cognitive reserve is believed to help buffer against the effects of dementia.
It has been noted that exercise promotes the production of neurotrophins, leading to greater brain plasticity, and therefore, better memory and learning. In addition to neurotrophins, exercise also results in an increase in neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, which boost information processing and mood.
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Myth: You Can Train Certain Parts Of The Brain To Improve Their Functioning
Fact: This has been an attractive and sometimes lucrative idea for many entrepreneurs. However, it is not possible to target a specific brain region and teach just to that part of the brain. The brain is highly connected. Neurons in the brain learn remember and forget, but they do not do so in isolation. Skills need to be broken down into their component parts and these parts can be taught. However, we do not totally understand how this learning takes place nor do we know exactly “where” in the brain that learning is stored. Evidence from victims of stroke and head injury show that injury to the brain of one individual may not result in the same loss in the brain of another person . Brains are like fingerprints although there are commonalities, there are differences that make each brain unique.
Brain Stem Keeps You Breathing And More
Another brain part that’s small but mighty is the brain stem. The brain stem sits beneath the cerebrum and in front of the cerebellum. It connects the rest of the brain to the spinal cord, which runs down your neck and back. The brain stem is in charge of all the functions your body needs to stay alive, like breathing air, digesting food, and circulating blood.
Part of the brain stem’s job is to control your involuntary muscles the ones that work automatically, without you even thinking about it. There are involuntary muscles in the heart and stomach, and it’s the brain stem that tells your heart to pump more blood when you’re biking or your stomach to start digesting your lunch. The brain stem also sorts through the millions of messages that the brain and the rest of the body send back and forth. Whew! It’s a big job being the brain’s secretary!
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It Is Literally Impossible For Our Brains To Multi
Multi-tasking is something weve long been encouraged to practice, but it turns out multitasking is actually impossible. When we think were multi-tasking, were actually context-switching. That is, were quickly switching back-and-forth between different tasks, rather than doing them at the same time.
The book Brain Rules explains how detrimental multi-tasking can be:
Research shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things.
The problem with multi-tasking is that were splitting our brains resources. Were giving less attention to each task, and probably performing worse on all of them:
When the brain tries to do two things at once, it divides and conquers, dedicating one-half of our gray matter to each task.
Here is how this looks like in reality. Whilst we try to do both Action A and Action B at the same time, our brain is never handling both simultaneously. Instead, it has to painfully switch back and forth and use important brainpower just for the switching:
When our brains handle a single task, the prefrontal cortex plays a big part. Heres how it helps us achieve a goal or complete a task:
The anterior part of this brain region forms the goal or intentionfor example, I want that cookieand the posterior prefrontal cortex talks to the rest of the brain so that your hand reaches toward the cookie jar and your mind knows whether you have the cookie.
When a third task was added, the volunteers results plummeted: