There’s a ton of information out there about getting (and staying) healthy in the physical sense — everywhere you turn, there seems to be a new diet suggestion or workout routine that promises to make and keep your body fit. What about your mind, though? Do you have problems remembering dates or juggling multiple thoughts at once? Do you wish you could improve your language skills to aid in reading comprehension and everyday communication? Perhaps you feel your mind “slipping” a bit with age. Well, mental fitness is a real thing.
Read these five suggestions for brain health to help keep your neurons flexing.
1. Play brain games.
There are a number of websites that are available to help you exercise your mind using games and other daily tasks tailored to your brain training goals. Whether you’re looking to enhance your analytical abilities, improve your memory, or build language skills, there is a program out there. Luminosity and FitBrains are two popular examples of sites that offer such services for a fee. There are other options if you’re interested in jumping on the brain-game bandwagon but don’t want to shell out the cash just yet, with (less tailored, of course) programs offered by such organizations as the AARP.
2. Get moving.
While age is the biggest risk factor for a decline in cognitive function, being overweight is another. Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Longevity Center, has reported that being overweight while middle-aged raises your risk of dementia later in life. In addition, other issues that can affect the body of a person who is overweight — like diabetes and hypertension — can harm the brain in secondary ways.
Plus, exercise is also a stimulant that can release endorphins that make you feel good. When you feel good, you’re more apt to better handle stress and think clearly. Even a little exercise can go a long way for your brain.
3. Don’t forget your omegas.
Omega-3 fats have a long list of dietary benefits — now we can add brain protection. UCLA reports that some studies have shown that a diet with enough omega-3 fats and an infrequent, responsible consumption of omega-6 fats can reduce the risk of a decline in cognitive ability. Omega-3s are found in a variety of foods including flaxseed, edamame, and fish. Omega-6s are found in foods including vegetable oil, whole milk, and many processed foods.
4. Don’t stop reading.
It doesn’t have to be a piece of classic literature or a peer-reviewed journal; just make a point to read anything that interests you as often as you can. A 2013 study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology found that participants who read — or participated in other mentally-stimulating activities regularly — experienced slower memory decline compared to individuals who did not report consistently picking up a newspaper or novel. Plus, reading grows your knowledge, can make you more empathetic, and activates your imagination. In short, reading to keep your mind healthy is a no-brainer.
5. If you suffer from depression, treat it.
It is widely known that severe depression alters cerebral function and can cause a slowdown of biochemical responses within the brain that is not seen in non-depressed patients. In extreme cases or in instances where a patient goes too long without treatment, these negative effects on the brain may not be entirely reversible. In addition, UCLA reports that individuals prone to depression have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Depression is a medical condition that affects many, and finding yourself depressed now does not doom your brain function later in life. However, it is important to get appropriate treatment for your depression to help decrease your chances of facing long-term cognitive consequences. And, you deserve to feel better.
For more information on the particular studies mentioned in this article, visit UCLA or the American Academy of Neurology. To sign up for brain games at a paid site that tailors to your needs, visit Luminosity or FitBrains. Or, try the AARP’s free version by clicking here.