We often think about health in physical terms, like weight or cholesterol levels, and we forget that the brain is a part of our overall health. Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging and can cause changes in memory, thinking, and problem-solving abilities. However, there are steps that we can take to protect our brain health and maintain cognitive function.
If you forget appointments, and important dates, and just feel like your mind is stagnating, you might want to make some changes. Dr Sanjay Gupta, a renowned brain and cognitive scientist, has identified five key pillars for keeping the mind sharp. He shared those in his bestseller ‘Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age’. Let’s look at them more closely.
Here are the 5 pillars that will keep your mind sharp
If you are the type of person who would rather prevent problems instead of spending a lot of money and time fixing them, then take a look at this advice. No matter how old you are, simply changing your routine can be beneficial for your brain.
1Exercise to boost your brain immediately
This is by far the #1 recommendation of all neuroscientists and doctors. Regular physical activity has been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age-related declines in brain health.
Movement not only helps to increase, repair, and maintain brain cells, but it also makes you more productive and alert. In other words, there is a direct correlation between movement and brainpower and the effect is almost immediate. And there are countless studies to prove that.
In his book, Dr Gupta mentions a 2018 study that illustrates that the elderly with higher fitness levels typically have greater odds of being able to remember words than those who are less fit. Another research on cyclists aged 55 to 79 demonstrates that they possess an extraordinary level of mental health. Not only are their bodies in remarkable shape, but also tests measuring agility, mental well-being and life satisfaction yielded astonishingly high scores.
According to the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, an evaluation of 11 studies reveals that regular physical activity can considerably reduce the likelihood of dementia by 30%, and for Alzheimer’s disease specifically, an incredible 45%. Exercise is a power player when it comes to protecting your brain health.
Engage in activities that challenge your body and mind, such as aerobic exercise, strength training, and balance and coordination exercises. Even low-intensity activities, like simple walking, can make a positive change for your brain and mind.
2Challenge yourself to learn new things every day
A 2014 study found that starting a new hobby can help keep your brain active and healthy. The University of Texas at Dallas studied how hobbies like painting, photography, or even learning a new language can give your brain a boost. One study showed that for each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2%.
Trying something different can be as simple as seeing a 3D movie, signing up for a club, or brushing your teeth with your other hand. Engaging in activities that challenge your mind and keep it active, such as learning a new skill, solving puzzles, or reading can help to improve memory, concentration, and problem-solving abilities.
3Relax and get enough sleep to stay focused
Relaxing is not only good for your body but your mind needs a break too. If you exhaust yourself, your memory will be foggy. Stress can make it hard to learn new things or adapt to new situations. Some researchers say that even something as common (and stressful) as trying to do more than one thing at once can make thinking slower.
Mindfulness techniques also have been demonstrated to effectively reduce cortisol levels, a key contributor to stress. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed numerous trials and revealed that mindfulness can significantly decrease anxiety, depression, and pain.
Getting enough quality sleep is also essential for maintaining cognitive function. The lack of sleep raises levels of inflammation which is bad for your body and mind. Research shows that people in their 50s and 60s getting six hours of sleep or less were at greater risk of developing dementia later. Compared to those getting normal sleep (defined as 7 hours), people getting less rest each night are 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and create a bedtime routine that will help you relax and fall asleep easily.
4Fuel your mind with healthy food choices
Scientists have always suspected that certain foods could improve brain function, and now they finally have evidence to back up those claims.
There are special dieting styles created to prevent cognitive decline. One of them is the MIND diet, determined by Dr. Martha Clare Morris, a professor of epidemiology at Rush University in Chicago. That is a mix of Mediterranean and DASH (anti-hypertension) diets which showed amazing results during the studies. The research conducted by Dr. Morris before her death showed that people who were following her diet closely saved themselves an equivalent to about seven and a half years of aging and had a 53 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to people who followed the MIND less.
Consuming memory-boosting foods such as cold-water fish, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, fibrous fruits, and vegetables can help preserve your memory as you age. It’s also recommended to avoid processed and sugary foods, which can contribute to inflammation and cognitive decline.
According to the recent studies, replacing 20% of ultra-processed food weight with an equivalent proportion of unprocessed or minimally processed food led to a 34% lower risk of dementia and 39% lower risk of vascular dementia.
The food we consume not only has an effect on our health, but also on the microbes living inside of us. These trillions of bacteria play a vital role in cognitive function and overall brain health. The healthier the microbiome, the better chance we have at maintaining a sharp mind as we age.
5Talk, chat, communicate!
According to a 2016 study, loneliness or isolation was linked with higher risks of heart disease and stroke. A more recent analysis from 70 studies that included 3.4 million people found lonely individuals had a 30% riskier chance of dying in the next seven years – this effect is most pronounced among those younger than 65. Clearly, social connection is essential for health! Countless studies show that social inactivity also boosts cognitive decline. Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.). At the same time, a 2015 study found that having a diverse social network can improve our brain’s plasticity and cognitive abilities.
Connecting with others not only helps reduce stress but can also boost our immune system and decrease our risk of cognitive decline. Engage in social activities, such as having regular conversations with friends and family, joining a club or group, or volunteering.
Social support in the Blue Zones
Okinawa, Japan is known as one of the Blue Zones. Its’ inhabitants have developed longevity traditions, one of which is called moai (“mo-eye”). Moais are social support groups formed in childhood and sustained into adulthood. Long ago, moais were created to bring a village together and support collective projects. Any individual who looked for money to buy land or solve an emergency could rely on the moai’s resources. Nowadays, the notion of a moai is viewed as a social support group where people meet for companionship and benefit from one another with advice, favors, and stories.
Fun & interesting facts about our brain
The brain weighs not more than 2.5% of body weight but it’s the biggest energy consumer in the human body responsible for 20 percent of the body’s total energy and oxygen.
The brain is the last organ to mature in human bodies. In most cases, it’s developing until the age of 25.
There are plenty of myths and false knowledge about the brain. We counted at least 12.
Let’s sum up: the keys to a sharp mind
According to a neurosurgeon and praised medical writer Dr. Sanjay Gupta, there is a five-pillar approach to keeping the mind sharp. Dr. Gupta believes that in order to maintain mental acuity and well-being, individuals should take into account their own lifestyle. The five pillars of the approach are physical activity, nutrition, mental stimulation, restorative sleep and relaxation, and social activity.
Hungry for knowledge? Here’s more
If you want to protect your mind from stagnating we recommend reading ‘Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age’ by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It’s an eye-opening exploration into the neuroscience of brain health. This book offers practical advice from leading experts in nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and cognitive training – so you can age with a sharper mind.
The video below is an excellent explanation of how exercise can improve your brain health. Get ready to be motivated as neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki delves into the science behind how exercising not only enhances your mood and memory but also safeguards you against neurodegenerative ailments like Alzheimer’s.
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