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  • Dr. Sharon Borkowski

First Aid for the Brain (Part 1)

Every brain changes with age, and mental function changes along with it. Mental decline is common, and it's one of the most feared consequences of aging. But cognitive impairment is not inevitable.

Let’s consider 5 of the simplest things you can do to improve your brain function.

1. Get mental stimulation

Through research with mice and humans, scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological "plasticity" and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss.

Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems. Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts. Try for some challenging brain activities.

2. Get Physical Exercise

Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Animals who exercise regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.

3. Improve your diet

Good nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. Start with incorporating 5-7 servings of fresh vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit each day! Reduce consumption of sweets and processed foods. Increase water intake to at least 64fl oz/day (some individuals may require more). Healthy gut = healthy brain

4. Improve sleep hygiene and get more sleep

Your brain can’t function without proper rest. Start with shutting down electronics 1-2 hours before bed to allow the mind to relax and get ready for rest. If you must engage with electronics, try using blue-blocking glasses at night (after sunset). Otherwise, consider having some relaxing herbal tea (I like chamomile) and curling up with a book before bed. It is important not to engage in any activity that is too stimulating for at least an hour before bedtime.

5. Care for your emotions

People who are anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted tend to score poorly on cognitive function tests. Poor scores don't necessarily predict an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age, but good mental health is certainly an important goal.

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