Learn. Share. Plan.
A Fitness Plan for Your Brain
Article Posted on
Was exercise your new year’s resolution? We all know how important it is to take care of our bodies as we age, so that we can stay healthy and happy for ourselves and our loved ones. But did you know it is just as important to give your brain a regular workout?
Maintaining your brain’s fitness as you age can increase your happiness and reduce your risk of mental disease. It will help you live a fuller life.
While we often think of childhood as the time when our brains change and grow, research shows that adult brains are also capable of growth due to brain plasticity – the term for our brain’s ability to physically change in response to stimuli by forging new and stronger connections between brain cells.
Events that trigger brain plasticity:
- At the start of life, when the brain begins to develop.
- After a brain injury to compensate for lost functions.
- Throughout life as we learn new things and experience new events. This is especially important because it means we can play a conscious role in heightening brain function during our day to day activities.
Four Ways to Keep Your Brain Fit
- Eat right: While scientists are still researching which foods are best for the aging brain, a good place to start is a healthy diet containing fatty fish (that is, the good-for-you omega-3 fats), vegetables, nuts, and non-starchy fruits (like berries) which contain compounds that fight free radicals. Always choose fresh food when you have the chance; it is best to avoid heavily processed foods because preservatives have been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Get moving: Physical activity benefits the brain as well as the body. The Alzheimer Society of Canada highlights that an active lifestyle can reduce the risk of dementia and even delay its onset. This is because exercise nourishes the brain with blood, reduces stress, and decreases your risk of developing associated health conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The key is to focus on the word “activity” rather than “exercise.” Make the choice to live an active lifestyle: walking instead of driving, taking the stairs, and generally moving around in your daily routine. Your doctor can also recommend an exercise plan that is right for your unique health goals.
- Never stop learning: Research shows that the learning process strengthens connections (synapses) in the brain, so try to engage in challenging routines like tackling that daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Why not make this the year to improve your French, or learn to play piano? Recalling memories with games, developing new physical skills with instruments or dancing, and challenging the way you see the world by learning a language have all been shown to physically increase the size and strength of the brain.
- Socialize: Studies show that social connection provides cognitive benefits in addition to emotional support. Expressing empathy and sharing experiences with a friend increases motivation, reinforces memory, and benefits our emotional stability by reducing stress.
Combining socialization with the other three keys (eating well, exercising, and learning) is easy and a great way to make them all more fun! Attend a group yoga class, discover an interesting topic by talking to someone new, or cook a healthy meal with friends and family.
Socialization is in your nature. Humans are social animals, and it’s the very reason we have such large brains in the first place! So get out there and enjoy life - your brain will thank you.