There’s a lot you can do to keep your brain young, starting with these simple daily changes…
In our quest to stay young, most of us don’t think twice about trying out the latest moisturiser or fitness fad. Yet, how many of us think about keeping our brains fit?
Author of 100 Days to a Younger Brain, cognitive neuroscientist Sabina Brennan says: ‘We don’t consider our brain’s health, even though it’s our most complex and important organ.’
Perhaps it’s because we view a deteriorating, ageing brain as inevitable, or, in the case of dementia, a combination of genetics and bad luck.
Yet, according to Sabina, we have much more control than we think — and how we think and behave really matters.
She says: ‘Your brain is constantly changing. Your behaviours, your experiences and the life choices you make, can shape it at any age.
‘What you do — and what you don’t do — influence how resilient your brain will be when faced with challenges such as ageing, injury and disease.’
Here are her simple daily changes to boost brain health.
Physical activity changes your brain — it enhances connections and stimulates the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), dubbed ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain.
Do some exercise every day, and don’t sit for longer than an hour without getting up and walking around.
Find your stress ‘sweet spot’
A little bit of stress can go a long way, motivating us to attain our goals and meet daily challenges.
But poorly managed chronic stress, and persistently high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, can impair memory function.
The idea is not to eliminate stress, but to find the place where it’s optimal for you. Stress should be transient — any longer than a few weeks and it can alter the structure of your brain.
Socialise for 10 minutes
Long-term loneliness acts as a chronic stressor, whereas just 10 minutes of social interaction can boost brain performance.
It’s about choosing social interactions that challenge your brain in a good way.
Try to widen your social circle and include different age groups. Quality matters — be selective about who you socialise with and make sure the relationships are pleasant and meaningful.
Get enough vitamin B12
If you become deficient in B12, you may have symptoms that seem a lot like dementia, including a decline in memory, problems making decisions, personality changes and irritability. If you suspect you may be deficient, ask your doctor for a test.
Break out of your comfort zone
You might think it’s enough to do a daily crossword, but the brain’s plasticity needs novelty and challenge to improve.
So, enrol in a self-defence class, bake more complicated recipes, walk a new route without a map — and stay curious about the world around you.
Sleep before midnight
REM or dream sleep, and deep non-REM sleep, are both vital for brain health. This is when your brain is cleared of the toxic byproducts of metabolism that build up during the day.
Both kinds of sleep are important for the ability to retain information and save memories. As this process mainly happens in the early part of the night, it pays to get to bed earlier.
Eat oily fish
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds are also found in the brain and are important for memory and cognitive function.
Make a conscious effort to smile — it activates reward circuits in your brain and boosts brain health by releasing hormones that lower blood pressure, boost immune function and protect against stress and anxiety.
Be a ‘super-ager’
Over-50s who have negative perceptions about ageing, lose mental sharpness. Studies show that if you expect to see a decline in memory loss, you’ll perform worse on memory tests.
Sometimes the most damaging thing is when we are ageist about ourselves. If you look at super-agers, they don’t stop — they still live their lives fully.
100 Days to a Younger Brain (Orion Spring) by Sabina Brennan is available now, priced £14.99.