There’s not much you can do to stop time. You can however, improve the quality of your life within the time you have — and that includes keeping your mind sharp and vibrant. From eating the right foods to practicing meditation, here are my favorite natural ways to keep your brain sharp and vibrant.
Just like working out your muscles helps your musculoskeletal system stay strong, mental exercises help strengthen your brain.
Research shows that physical exercise enhances cognitive function. One reason might be because it increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that improves learning, memory and higher thinking by stimulating growth of new neurons and helping existing neurons stay alive.
Walk outdoors where the terrain isn’t predictable, so that you’re perfecting your balance and working your foot-eye coordination at the same time. Yoga or tai chi also enable you to practice coordination, flow of movement, balance and the engagement of different muscle groups. And don’t forget to fit in some aerobic exercise as well, getting your heart rate up for at least 15 minutes a few times a week.
Studies shows that chronic stress can damage the brain. So you can help protect and strengthen your brain by engaging in activities or lifestyle habits that decrease the firing of your stress response.
One of the best ways to do this is through developing a meditation practice, even if it’s just 10 to 20 minutes a day. You can practice breath-focused exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, or engage in a spiritual practice or ritual, like prayer.
The mind stays sharp when the plasticity of the brain is maintained. Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to constantly change over the course of a person’s lifetime. And this plasticity can be maintained — and better yet, improved — by engaging in cognitive training exercises, which challenge your intellectual capacity.
You can take up playing chess, learning a new language, or juggling. And playing boardgames can stimulate your thinking, as well as your hand-eye coordination. You can even do something simple like learn a new direction to drive to work, type or scroll with the opposite hand, or combine your senses by eating while listening to music with your eyes closed.
A diet high in sugar can be harmful to the brain, inducing inflammation, oxidative stress and poor insulin regulation.
Your goal, therefore, is to follow a diet that helps you improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. This means eating fish, some meat, a lot of vegetables, some nuts and seeds, some fruit and very little grains.
Your brain benefits not only from a low sugar intake, but also from getting more antioxidants, which can help improve your memory, learning and overall cognitive performance.
Antioxidant-rich foods include berries (especially blueberries), fruits and vegetables like carrots, spinach and red grapes, and drinks like green tea, red wine, and coffee, as well as dark chocolate (in moderation, of course).
We’ve all had that moment when we’re sleep-deprived and can’t remember where we put the keys or what we went into the kitchen to get. You can’t fully operate when you’re sleep-deprived — and this includes your cognitive skills, memory and ability to think clearly or communicate.
If you don’t feel well-rested, see if you need more hours of sleep or if it’s a question of improving the quality of sleep. Consider getting a Fitbit or other gadget that monitors how restfully you’re sleeping, or have a sleep study done by your doctor. You may find that you simply have to wake up too early to get the right amount of hours in. If this is the case, consider taking naps, which can help you catch up on those zzz’s.
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