Posted on Feb 18, 2020, 1 p.m.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle is often attributed to this quote, but it actually belongs to Will Durant who was trying to explain Aristotle in more simple terms. The original quote was: “As it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.” In other words, in order to achieve excellence an action must be made repeatedly to the point where it is considered a habit. Healthy habits therefore create happiness for both mind and body.
The relationship between the brain and body with the world around us is complex, and what you are able to do or not do can change health and well being. Physiological and biological factors such as lifestyle choices, exercise, nutrition, the immune system, genes and hormones all affect the brain.
There are also a variety of environmental, social and psychological factors that contribute to brain health such as current circumstances, life events, relationships, stress, mindset, and emotions. Whatever the factors, each can also impact others in dynamic ways such as your thoughts influencing your health that can cause chronic stress leading to abnormal heart rhythms or heart attack.
Having a healthy and robust brain will help you to live an active and happy life for a long time. While there isn’t much you can do about your genes, there are other factors which you can have a hand in modifying to help improve your brain health. Such as making simple lifestyle choices/habits to promote a healthy brain which can have more effect than most people are aware.
Feed your mind a healthy well balanced diet loaded with foods that are associated with slowing cognitive decline such as blueberries, whole grains, leafy green veggies, protein from legumes and fish, and choose healthier unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats. The best diet for your brain is also good for your heart and blood vessels, connections between what you put into your body and brain performance is strong.
“Omega-3 fats from fish or nuts fight inflammation associated with neurodegeneration. Fruit and vegetables combat age-related oxidative stress that causes wear and tear on brain cells,” says Dr Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and ageing, and director of the Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles.
Keeping stress under control is very important, find that moment of calm to separate yourself from chronic stress that can actually change the wiring of your brain to shrink the memory centre; cortisol stress hormones temporarily impair memory according to Dr. Small. When stressed, stop, take a moment to focus on calm deep breaths and do/think something that you enjoy to destress and reverse stress to help improve your mood and memory.
“Stress shrinks the brain’s memory centres, and the stress hormone cortisol temporarily impairs memory. Meditation even rewires the brain and improves measures of chromosomes’ telomere length, which predicts longer life expectancy” argues Dr Small.
Not only is exercise good for the body but it is also good for the mind, dozens of studies have documented that almost any type of physical activity ranging from yoga to swimming can contribute to improved cognitive performance by releasing feel good endorphins and stimulating BDNF molecules that are important to repairing brain cells and creating new connections between them. Try taking a walk in nature and leaving the digital devices behind, people often do their best thinking while being unplugged and walking.
“Aerobic exercise helps improve the health of brain tissue by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing the chances of injury to the brain from cholesterol buildup in blood vessels and from high blood pressure,” says Dr Joel Salinas, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mentally stimulating activities help to create new brain connections and more cognitive reserve to help the brain stay fit and functioning properly. Doing just one mind challenging activity a day and spending some time in new thoughts can help to improve brain health. Learning and trying to understand other ideas, cultures, concepts and people can boost brain power; activities that combine social, physical and mental challenges will carry the most benefits.
“…higher cognitive activity endows the brain with a greater ability to endure the effects of brain pathologies compared to a person with lower cognitive engagement throughout life,” says David S. Knopman, M.D., a clinical neurologist involved in research in late-life cognitive disorders.
By our very nature humans are social, the meaningful social connections that we forge serve to help make us happier, and being happy make the brain function more efficiently. Conversation has been shown to stimulate the brain, talking actually requires a complex combination of skills including thinking, memory, attention, speech and social awareness. These social connections have been shown to help protect the brain against depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research suggests that social interaction may be one of the keys to maintaining brain function with age. Being social helps to reduce the effects of stress, and that social support helps you to live longer, happier, and healthier, all backed by science.
Many people fail to recognize just how important sleep is to overall health and wellbeing. Sleep should not be seen as a luxury, it is a priority. Naps are equally important, make time for wakeful rest if you are lacking, if you have a busy schedule plan time for a nap on your calendar. Even after that busy day just sit back and close your eyes to let your mind wander for a few moments to relax, unwind and recover from the day; during that time it may seem like rest but the brain will actually be busy consolidating all the information from the day without any of that taxing external stimulation.
“Without good sleep, we see increased anxiety and stress. Sleep is restorative, helping you be more mentally energetic and productive,” advises Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter.
No matter your age it is never too late to start making some simple lifestyle changes/choices that will help you to live more healthy. Those daily habits really do have more impact on how well and how long you live. The brain will naturally decline if you allow it to, if you take steps to intervene you can slow the process, and it is easier to protect the brain rather than repair it once the damage has become too extensive. Healthy habits are fully controlled by your choice, the importance of these have been well documented, it does pay off to make a conscious effort to take simple steps to help protect yourself, your body and mind will thank you now, and in the future.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.