You’d be well aware that you need to exercise your body regularly to stay in shape, but did you know you should be dedicating the same amount of time to giving your brain a workout, too?
Maintaining brain health isn’t just about Sudokus and crosswords. According to Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroscientist and blogger at YourBrainHealth.com.au, we can’t rely on one silver bullet to keep our brains healthy. “We need to develop a multi-pronged approach that combines the following: Adequate sleep, nourishing food, physical exercise, stimulating mental activity, social connection and we must find ways to minimise stress,” she says.
Dr. McKay argues that neuroscience has produced a number of studies showing that adults who regularly challenge their minds and stay mentally active throughout life have healthier brains. “They’re also less likely to develop dementia and they live longer — and their experiences will be that much more memorable,” Dr. McKay argues.
Start a walking book club
Over at Your Brain Health, Dr. McKay’s successful walking book club combines three essentials of brain health. “The walking book club focuses on mental, physical and social activity,” she says. “Each month on my blog, I recommend a book for my readers and then two weeks later I post a list of questions for your book club to discuss while you walk. If you’re already a member of a book club, then consider taking your next meeting outdoors and exercise your body as well as your mind!”
Cook a brain health dish
Cooking new and exotic dishes with your partner or friends is a fantastic and easy way to give your brain a workout — particularly if you choose foods that have been shown to support brain health. Research points to the Mediterranean diet as having the strongest scientific evidence for slowing cognitive decline and reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, so try a recipe that features ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, seafood, fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Try a new type of workout
Getting regular physical exercise is an important part of nourishing your neurons, according to Dr. McKay, and if your exercise regimen involves learning a new skill as well as a workout, you’ll be getting extra brain benefits by challenging your mind mentally as well as physically. Need new exercise ideas? Think Latin dancing, pole dancing, or Aqua Zumba.
Find more new and surprising ways to work out >>>
Make every Tuesday “French Day”
If you dedicate one day a week to indulging in a new language and culture, you’ll not only enhance your language skills, but you’ll challenge your memory as well. There are plenty of ways you can incorporate a new language into everyday life: Try watching TV in another language, listening to foreign music or reading global news websites. Research suggests that learning languages is a good way to keep your brain in shape; languages also force you to exercise your vocabulary, grammar and ability to memorise and understand new words. Be curious about the language you choose to focus on and make the effort to use new words on their own and in context.
Hook up with your social network
Having a strong social group helps to keep your brain fit and active, yet be wary of spending too much time socialising with your friends virtually, as this can be isolating and detrimental to your mental health. Turn off Facebook and spend more time focusing on enriching your friendships through conversation and shared experiences. Even hanging out with one friend is healthy: Getting the most out of your social encounters isn’t about the sheer number of friends you have, but the depth of the experiences you share.
Race your partner to bed
Get to bed early as many nights as you can. Besides the obvious detriments that come with not enough sleep, like tiredness and irritability, some research has suggested that a lack of sleep can actually increase stress and worsen memory. Studies have also indicated that the brains of those who suffer from insomnia don’t function as effectively during the day, with insomnia sufferers experiencing delayed reaction times and memory.