Eight Ways to Protect Your Brain
The brain is an amazing organ that processes millions of thoughts each year, but brain health often takes a back seat to physical health. As we age, the health of your brain becomes more and more important, and has a profound impact on quality of life. Luckily, there are many ways to protect, maintain, and potentially even boost brain health. Check out these tips to protect the most important part of the body.
1. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated has countless health benefits. When it comes to the brain, drinking enough water helps keep the nervous system and the brain communicating properly, which will improve focus, alertness, and memory. Dehydration can lead to mental confusion and fatigue, and long-term chronic dehydration can lead to premature aging of the brain. Most research suggests drinking eight glasses of water is a good daily goal. Consult with your doctor prior to any drastic changes in your current fluid intake and to make sure this is an appropriate goal for you.
2. Fine-tune Your Diet
Did you know you can eat your way to better brain function? Foods such as salmon and sardines have Omega-3, which is a fatty acid essential to brain health. Nuts and seeds contain Vitamin E, which appears to slow cognitive decline over time. Foods with antioxidants – such as pomegranate, dark chocolate, and green tea – promote healthy blood flow. It is important to learn how to accentuate your diet with these important foods. Remember that moderation is key.
3. Quit Smoking & Avoid Second-Hand Smoke
Not only is smoking bad for physical health, but studies link smoking and even second-hand smoke to neurological effects. There are more than 50 toxic chemicals in cigarettes, the long-term build-up of which can cause memory loss and learning deficits. Unfortunately, long-term second-hand or “passive” smoking (being exposed to smoke regularly) has been associated with the same problems as actually smoking. Smoking has also been associated with the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which holds functions such as language, memory, and perception. The good news? A study showed that individuals who quit smoking reversed these changes.
4. Ask the Right Questions Before a Medical Procedure
Medical procedures often carry a risk of complications, which can range from minor to major. Neurological damage or stroke is one of the more serious complications, and is associated with some heart and vascular procedures. In certain procedures, such as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) and Transcarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR), it may be possible to help protect your brain from the risk of stroke or neurological damage by using a cerebral protection device. A cerebral protection device captures and removes debris (such as calcium or other material) that may dislodge during your procedure before it reaches your brain and causes stroke or other damage. Before undergoing any medical procedure, be sure to discuss the potential risks and complications with your doctor so you can learn how to protect yourself.
5. Wear a Helmet
While it may seem obvious, many adults don’t wear helmets when they should. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in preventing head injuries, yet only 18 percent of all bicyclists wear them. Even a seemingly mild head injury could result in a concussion or worse, which can cause memory loss, confusion, and difficulty focusing. It’s important to wear a helmet whether it’s taking a quick bike ride around town, riding a motorcycle, or doing other activities in which there is potential for a fall, such as climbing.
6. Exercise Your Brain
Just as staying active is an important part of physical health, keeping the brain active plays a role in maintaining brain health. Brain “exercise” doesn’t have to be boring! There are a variety of leisure activities that also give the brain a workout. According to the National Institute on Aging, reading, participating in a hobby, or even engaging socially with friends and family can help keep the brain stimulated. Some studies suggest puzzles may also be a way to keep the mind active and potentially promote brain function. Switching up your routine and learning a new skill or activity are other ways to keep the brain alert.
7. Get Enough Sleep
It is widely recommended that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for optimal health, yet the CDC reports that almost one-third are not regularly getting that amount. Sleep plays a very important role in brain function. Lack of sleep interrupts important processes and communication between parts of the brain responsible for forming memories and learning. It can also alter the behavior of normal brain cells. For a restful night of sleep, reduce your caffeine intake as the day goes on and turn electronics off at least an hour prior to going to bed. Taking a hot shower or bath can also prepare your body for a good night of sleep.
8. Lower Your Stress Level
Stress is a normal part of life. But when stress becomes a chronic condition, there are a variety of effects on the body – including the brain. Chronic stress creates a hormonal imbalance that alters how neurons in the brain connect with each other. This can cause changes in cognitive function, including learning and memory ability. Chronic stress has also been associated with cortical volume loss and a higher risk of stroke. It is possible to reduce stress and minimize the damage it causes. Studies show that meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep can help counteract the effects of stress.
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- Health Brains. Available at: https://healthybrains.org/brain-facts/. Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
- The Scary Things That Happen to Your Brain When You’re Stressed—And How to Calm Down. Available at: https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/effects-of-stress-brain/ Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
- How Smoking Damages Mind as Well as Body Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/smoking-brain-smokers-memory-learning-mind-body-525347. Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
- 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
- Cognitive Health and Older Adults. Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults. Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
- Bicycle Helmet Key Facts. Available at: https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/docs/b_helmetlaws.pdf. Accessed Nov. 7, 2017.