The human brain has unparalleled capacity to process and analyze information. It is the control center for all your productivity and actions. People often take for granted the benefits and quality of life enabled by a healthy brain. Improving your brain’s health now, and as you age, can be as simple as adjusting some habits that may hurt your brain. Read on to learn about five habits you might wish to change to help your brain.
Sleep is critical to our well being and especially important for the health of our brain. While we sleep, our brain repairs itself. Lack of quality sleep inhibits this process, leaving the brain susceptible to damage over time. Americans are now sleeping less than ever. According to a poll conducted by the CDC, more than a third of people report sleeping less than 7 hours per night. Most people need between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep per day for optimum overall health. Many of us can relate to having reduced cognitive function due to a poor night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the effects of poor sleep extend beyond poor focus and a short temper. Recent studies have shown that poor sleep also causes degeneration and loss of brain cells.
That said, it is far too easy to shortchange ourselves much needed sleep in the interest of increased productivity. Ironically, better sleep could improve productivity and reduce time needed to complete tasks. Try using these 10 tips to help improve your nighttime routine and sleep quality.
Lack Of Personal Interaction
Conversation is incredibly beneficial for your brain. The process of having to order thoughts and feelings and then convert them into language while making sense of the words coming from the person or people with whom you are talking is a remarkable workout for your brain. A study conducted by the University of Michigan determined as few as 10 minutes per day of conversation with another person improved memory and cognition. The study also found higher levels of social interaction resulted in higher cognitive functioning. These findings were consistent through all age groups.
We now live in a time when face-to-face interactions are increasingly being replaced by digital text or digital surfing. The lack of true personal interaction not only limits your brain’s opportunities to ‘exercise’, but also leads to higher rates of loneliness and depression, mental conditions that contribute significantly to reduced brain health.
As we age the cerebral cortex thins. This area of the brain is where important thought processes such as memory, language and perception occur. Nicotine speeds the thinning of your cerebral cortex and can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. While quitting smoking does lead to some recovery of the cortex, it is slow and may be incomplete. Bottom line, smoking and vaping are terrible for your brain.
Eating habits considered good for your body are also good for your brain. Too much salt, sugar, alcohol or food in general will compromise the health of your brain. Evidence from a 2012 study indicated people who were overweight had a 22% reduction in cognitive function compared to slimmer peers over a 10-year time.
Salt. High salt consumption is a contributing factor for high blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to an increased risk of stroke and causes repeated small traumas to your brain resulting in minor cognitive deficits.
Sugar. As sweet as it can be, it’s terrible for your brain. Research repeatedly shows that sugar negatively influences brain structure and function, compromising both the formation of long-term memory and learning. This 2011 study demonstrated a strong link between sugar consumption and decreased cognitive function.
Alcohol. A study published by the British Medical Journal found people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol weekly (15–20 drinks per week) were three times more likely to have damage to the area of the brain responsible for memory and spatial navigation. The good news is, unlike nicotine, for those who stop drinking alcohol, the brain will heal itself and return to normal.
Over-indulging occasionally will not result in lasting harm. A lifestyle based on overindulgence, however, will ultimately compromise all aspects of your health. According to behavioral neurologist, Gad Marshall, increased caloric intake and poor food choices are both linked to increased risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Regular exercise is good for your overall health. Research shows the benefits of exercise for the human brain. Aerobic exercise, like walking, gardening or running and weight training helps the health of your brain in the following ways:
• Improving the health of the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to memory and learning
• Increasing neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to change as you learn and have new experiences
• Strengthening blood vessels resulting in better blood flow which can help stop the buildup of plaque related to dementia
• Improving executive functioning, your ability to organize and interpret information, by changing white matter in a way that helps brain cells connect
Begin with 30 minutes of moderate exercise as many days a week as possible. If you increase your exercise to 45–60 minutes most days, you will receive optimal brain benefits. Regardless of how many days or how much time you devote to exercise, it will result in a healthier body and brain.
With so much attention given to physical health, it’s easy to forget how important it is to take care of your brain. Brain health depends on a variety of factors, including genetics. While there are some things you can’t control, you do have control over lifestyle choices that can improve your overall brain health. Your brain is the most precious thing you have, treat it well!
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Elle Kaplan is the founder and CEO of LexION Capital, a fiduciary wealth management firm in New York City, serving high-net-worth individuals. She is also the chief investment officer and founder of LexION Alpha.
This article was originally published on Medium.
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