You don’t have to be a pensioner to care about maintaining your mental prowess. While we slave away at the gym to maintain our idea of the perfect figure, most of us completely disregard the need to do the same for our brain.
Prioritising mental fitness is not only relevant in the context of combating inevitable ageing, but is an important habit to get into in order to maximise your ability to achieve your goals and live your full potential.
Read on as we share some easy ways to keep your mind fit to incorporate into your everyday:
This one doesn’t come as a surprise, as we’re always told to never stop learning. Activating the processes in your brain usedto learn new information helps to stimulate the communications between cells or neurons in your brain, maintaining their strength and performance. Challenging yourself through critical thinking or acquiring a new skill can even create new pathways and improve your memory as whole. We love the idea of taking a painting class, learning a new language, or practising calligraphy. A great example of the benefits is a study conducted on cab drivers in London, as their ability to recall 25,000 street names have altered the physical size of their hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory retention and recall.
My Dad is a firm believer any form of mental disorder can be fixed with physical exercise. While it may sound too good to be true, recent studies have suggested that this is in fact the case, as a balanced diet and regular exercise have been found to help combat brain injury, decrease chances of depression, and cognitive decline. Aerobic exercise is the most effective form of exercise for brain function because the signals from our brain to move our joins eventually builds and releases a chemical called growth factors, which make our neurons stronger.
As mentioned above, a well-balanced diet is also crucial for brain function. In this case, a low glycemic diet (i.e. low in sugar and starch) allows a more reliable flow of energy to the brain, which helps to maintain the organ’s performance long-term. Instead, opt for foods that are high in fibre and low in saturated fat. Above all, it’s important to feed your body well, as extreme low calorie diets, restriction, or eating disorders directly lead to memory impairment, confusion, among other issues of decline.
Bad habits like smoking, consuming more than the recommended units of alcohol per day, and not getting enough sleep are direct culprits in declining mental functions, and are linked to a higher risk of developing dementia. Working to combat these bad habits will not only benefit the health of your body, but will also slow down the pace of your brain’s organic ageing process.
Stress has been shown to have a host of negative health effects, of which a decrease in brain function relative to memory and decision-making are all too evident. Studies have shown that chronic stress can damage brain structure and connectivity, which can lead to learning difficulties in later life. Meditation, making changes to your professional life, or seeking professional help may be needed for you to take the right steps in turning things around.
Each of our five sense hold specific functions in terms of memory retention in our brain, meaning that is a sensory recall attached to every memory. Consequently, challenging your brain with sensory stimulation not only helps neuron connectivity, it also directly lends to improved memory recall in the long-term. We suggest learning or honing in your cooking skills, learning a new instrument, or volunteering at an animal shelter.
While we may not find taking a new route to work challenging, breaking out of a monotonous routine is helpful in getting the synapses in your brain firing, which in turn helps to strengthen their communication and connectivity. Small changes such as swapping out your meal prep, using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, or even changing the type of footwear you’re accustomed to can help in this regard.
Meeting and connecting with others not only satisfies our basic need for human interaction, it also helps to challenge our brain to understand and accept other points of view or perspectives. Getting to know individuals from different backgrounds not only opens you up to new relationships and experiences, the exposure and understanding of new ideas also help to stimulate mental growth.
We’re regularly bombarded with the notion that we’re deteriorating as a species due to the rise of technology. While the verdict is still out for such a provocative statement, there's plenty of research out there showing the adverse effects of technology on our mental functions. The good news is that it’s quite easy to reverse this trend. Forgo reaching your phone for information and stimulation. Rather, challenge yourself to memorise phone numbers, read a real map, or make friends with real people, or soak in knowledge from a book rather than just ‘Googling it’.
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