Use it or Lose it – How to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Growing older is inevitable and whilst many of us believe that our brains naturally deteriorate in our old age, it is actually still possible to maintain a healthy mind well into the golden years. Keeping our brains healthy means that we get to enjoy life fully; whether that’s seeing our grandchildren grow older, getting the best out of our gardens or just being able to enjoy a great book. A healthy mind improves all aspects of our lives, so it is vital to do all we can to help it age well.
Learn a New Skill
As we age, the things that once came easily to us can start to feel slightly out of focus. There are many ways to train your brain, but a particularly good one is to begin learning a new skill. Whether that’s picking up a new game, like chess or poker, or beginning to learn a new language, engaging in this way keeps our brains healthy. An interesting study for those who are psychologically minded was conducted by Maguire on London Taxi Drivers. Scans of the driver’s brains were taken both before and after they had completed ‘The Knowledge’ – a test which requires drivers to remember all of London’s 25000 streets. They found that after the test, the grey matter in the hippocampus had expanded greatly, showing that with a little determination, it is possible to actually grow your brain!
Acquiring knowledge in this way is a useful tool in fighting the onset of dementia. This disease forms plaque around the synapses in our brain, which eventually close down the pathways that information uses to travel. Whilst this prognosis sounds bleak, the idea that we can grow new synapses means that as long as we’re growing at the same rate as the plaque, our brains should stay healthy and clear. A great way of achieving this is by learning a language. It has been found that bilingual brains are significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll become fluent, it is still a very effective tool for keeping your mind active. The other bonus, of course, is more holidays!
Just like our bodies, our brains need to be well fed. They are a complex network that needs to be kept well oiled, so naturally oily fish is a great place to start. Around 60% of the brain is made of fat and of that, around half is made of Omega-3s. Omega 3s are most readily found in oily fish, so whether you switch to kippers on toast for breakfast, or have grilled mackerel of an evening, you’ll be doing your brain a great deal of good.
Berries, particularly those that are deep in colors such as blueberries, blackberries, and currants, are packed with anthocyanins. Anthocyanins deliver both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, both of which are great for the brain. Antioxidants help to combat stress and inflammation in the brain, in turn reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Interestingly, blueberries, in particular, have been shown to help improve communication between brain cells – a real superfood!
Turmeric has been a buzz word in health foods for quite a while now, but for good reason. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric which is one of the few foodstuffs that can cross the blood-brain barrier. This means it can actually enter the brain and directly help new brain cells grow there. Remember the plaque we mentioned earlier? Although not proven on a wide scale just yet, there is evidence to suggest that curcumin can clear the plaque that forms during Alzheimer’s.
Do you know how your mother always told you to eat your greens? She wasn’t wrong! Recently it has been found that broccoli can help prevent brain aging. It is incredibly high in vitamin K, which is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that makes up a large proportion of brain cells. So powerful is vitamin K that some studies have found a strong link between vitamin K intake and memory.