Over the past few decades neuroscientists have discovered that the grey blancmange-like structure between our ears is capable of adapting, healing, rewiring and even renewing itself. Brain health is as important as physical health and what’s more, we can make changes which positively impact the health of our brain, and science has given us some interesting ways to do this.
Various studies found that volunteers who participated in a juggling exercise improved connections in areas of their brains involved in visual and motor activity. Furthermore, the changes were still present several weeks after they stopped. The researchers chose juggling because it’s a complex skill, but other complex activities would also work, for example: salsa dancing, life-drawing or learning a musical instrument. The key is that the new skill you choose to learn should be unrelated to what you normally do. It should take you out of your comfort zone.
Tasks which involve genuine concentration, such as studying a musical instrument, playing chess, juggling, and dancing, are associated with a lower risk for dementia. Dancing, it turns out is particularly good as it is both physically and mentally challenging.
Learning a new language is also good for a brain workout, causing an increase in grey matter in the areas related to the use of language.
For those of us who love our beds it’s good news; sleep is necessary for brain health. It’s not such good news for people who struggle with insomnia and disrupted sleep though. Poor sleep is linked to rapid reductions in brain volume, so your brain actually shrinks. Areas of the brain dealing with language, balance, maths and decision-making were the most affected. Poor sleep causes protein build-up in the brain, which negatively impacts brain cells. Sleep repairs and restores brain function, so improving sleep habits is important for brain health. Experts suggest between 7–8 hours per night as optimal. If you feel you aren’t sleeping well it’s important to talk to your doctor as underlying issues such as snoring, or high levels of anxiety, may need to be addressed.
It’s not only good for your body but it helps memory, motor skills, and learning ability.
It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; simply running on a treadmill or pedalling a stationary bike for 30 minutes has benefits. Exercise increases heart rate, so more oxygen is pumped to the brain, and it releases beneficial hormones too, improving mood and sleep, while reducing stress levels and anxiety. See why dancing is so brain-friendly? It ticks ALL the boxes.
It’s not just a fad. Science says meditation is beneficial for mental health. Our brains often function on auto-pilot. Being in the moment while going about your day and noting any tension or preoccupations, without judging, is effective in combating stress. Meditation rewires your brain, leading to: raised happiness levels, stress reduction, increased concentration, improved working memory, decreased emotional outbursts, and better problem-solving.
By taking care of your brain you can increase white and grey matter, improve mental health, and slow down cognitive decline. It’s time to be brainy!
By Louise Addison