MAINTAINING A HEALTHY BRAIN

The secret to boosting your brain power

As we age, many of us may think that our mental ability must necessarily decline. But new evidence shows that this is not neccesarily the case.

Many older people think that by regularly completing crosswords or sudoku, they will enhance their brain power. However, this is probably not true.  At best, it will do no more than improve their ability to do crosswords and sudoku.  Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that these activities, along with the myriad of phone apps available to improve brain function, achieve anything at all.

Improving Brain Function

According to Melbourne neuroscientist Dr Jared Cooney Horvath, the secret to keeping your brain fresh is continuing to do something unpredictable.  Recent research has shown that keeping your brain functioning well is not about repeating the same activities over and over, rather it is about undertaking new thinking patterns.  Dr Horvath maintains that there are twelve scientific principles controlling the way that we learn and remember. He says that the idea that we can use tools to boost brain function is not supported by current evidence. In actual fact, there is very little that is known about ways that we can help our brains to function better.

If we understand the way that our brain works, we will have a better chance of adopting habits and behaviours that will benefit us to the extent that we can develop a “super-efficient” brain.  As we learn, the brain starts to develop an automatic prediction mechanism. The secret is “you have to keep doing something unpredictable”.  

Learn Something New

Many people, after they retire, will start doing cross-words and playing golf and and may become very good at these activities, simply by virtue of repetition and practice.  However, if they were to take up something new, such as learning an instrument or another language or playing a new sport or even doing something outlandish, the brain will respond and new thought patterns will develop, thus improving brain function.

The conclusion is that any decline in normal brain function is not inevitable as we age.  In fact, if any decline occurs, it is most likely not due to any biological process, but rather sociological effects.

So, the bottom line, according to Dr Horvath, is… “force yourself to engage in something new and once you get good at it, do something new again”.  If you have never done a crossword, it will help your brain by starting to do them.  But once you get good at it, learn to do something else, such as a cryptic crossword or solitaire.  Keep on stretching your brain to function outside of its comfort zone.

In essence, the secret to keeping the brain fresh is continual learning.  If you want a well-functioning brain, you need to feed it new skills all the time.

THREE WAYS TO BOOST BRAIN POWER

1 Follow the Mediterranean Diet

We have long known that exercise, sleep and stress management are all essential for our brain to function at its optimum. But in addition to these three things, we can improve our brain health when we eat a Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet helps improve our short term or working memory.

In essence, the Mediterranean diet consists of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, along with fish, nuts and salads topped off with olive oils.  Diets based on these foods have been shown to greatly improve vascular and brain health. These foods can make up a very healthy lunch or dinner with olives, spinach, goat’s cheese, tomatoes, fish, nuts and extra virgin olive oil.

2 Learn Something New

Learning an instrument or learning a new language can help improve our intellectual skills. As well as this, new sensory and motor skills can greatly boost the brain function. Reading about new things also increases our vocabulary and working memory

3 Go out and connect with Nature

Time spent exploring the countryside is time well spent. Go for drives and explore nature. Meditate in nature, relax and have a picnic.  Appreciate nature… the sea, the countryside or bush land.  Being outdoors gets you out and walking, breathing fresh air.  This all broadens your perspective of the world at large around you and your appreciation of nature… bird life and animals.  So slow down, get off the computer or phone and take a picnic and explore nature. Not only will you improve your brain function, you will feel more connected with the outdoors, the people you meet and you will feel more relaxed and calm.

Read more about maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle