"I think, therefore I am." ~ René Descarte
As a culture, we tend to place a high value on a well-functioning brain. Of all our organs, none is so linked to our sense of who we are and our possibilities.
If you've ever had a personal experience with someone suffering from a disorder that affects their brain, you know what a challenge that can be. Even though we've learned a lot about how the brain works, much about it is still a mystery, and unfortunately there are still many stigmas associated with altered brain function. Whether an alteration affects mood, movement, attention, thinking, or memory, it dramatically affects the quality of life. The impact of a brain disorder extends beyond affected individuals, rippling out to everyone who cares for them, and society as a whole.
With the U.S. population aging, it's no wonder that there is a heightened interest in how to keep our brains healthy for as long as possible. The good news is, there are a number of ways that we can not only preserve, but actually improve our brain function. Here are five essentials to help your brain be the best it can be:
- Be Active - We've known for years that exercise is good for our brains. Research confirms that an active lifestyle preserves gray matter. One reason may be that exercise actually stimulates growth of neurons.
- Get Enough Sleep - If you've ever been sleep deprived, you know how dramatically it can affect your mental functioning. Over time, lack of sleep causes the brain to shrink. Recent research has revealed that processes during sleep actually clear the brain of toxins.
- Be Well-nourished - Study after study confirms that our nutritional choices impact the health of our brains. High carbohydrate diets are linked to Alzheimer's while Omega 3s and the Mediterranean diet have beneficial brain effects. Recent theories suggest that a common factor is inflammation, and that foods that reduce inflammation are good for the brain as well as the rest of the body.
- Practice Mindfulness - Research on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) suggests that this practice reduces brain inflammation and thickens parts of the brain related to attention and emotional integration.
- Stay Hydrated - Dehydration negatively affects brain function, affecting mood and mental sharpness. Experts advise that most people should drink 8 glasses of water daily but you might need more if you live in a hot climate or are very active. You can tell if you're drinking enough if your urine is pale yellow.
While these essential self-care practices are great for your brain, they have multiple other health benefits too - so they are a great investment in your well-being.
What about you? What is your experience with brain-boosting self-care strategies? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!