The brain, like every other part of our body, ages as we do. Clinical neuropsychologist Nicola Gates recommends five top tips to keep you at your mental best.
1. Eat nutritious food. For optimum cognitive function your brain requires a diet high in nutrients, protein and essential vitamins and minerals. All brain functions, such as concentration, information processing speed, new learning capacity and cognitive tolerance become reduced when your diet is chronically nutritionally poor. Some nutrients, such as antioxidants and omega-3s, can increase your brain’s health.
2. Get active. Exercise improves cognitive function and may actually encourage the growth of new brain cells, while aerobic exercise may have a positive impact on executive functioning in older people.
3. Good mental health helps ensure good brain health. Stress, depression, anxiety and other psychological problems influence your brain’s ability to function. Prolonged exposure to stress harms your brain as the sympathetic nervous system is overactive and the amounts of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol become excessive and begin to interfere with your brain’s ability to function.
4. Stay connected with friends and family. A sense of fulfillment and meaning helps maintain cognitive, mental and physical health, and is gained through having an engaged and active life with other people. Join a club or society, become a volunteer, arrange regular get-togethers with friends, get to know your neighbours or play a sport. Get out there, meet people and have fun.
5. Keep your brain active. Cognitive functions, such as problem solving and memory and information processing, may decline as you age. This can worsen if your brain is understimulated. Keep it active by learning a new language or a new word every day, or by playing games such as chess or mahjong.
Nicola Gates is in private practice and is currently undertaking a PhD in dementia intervention. She also contributes to the development of exercises and research for the HeadStrong Cognitive Fitness Centre, an in2life partner. Visit www.headstrong.com.au or call Nicola on 02 9969 3301.