Brain Muscle: strengthening and expanding your brain capacity as you age

Many years ago I consciously realised it is vital to good aging, to stay mentally and socially active, and to exercise the brain as if it were a muscle. Which was when I found a variety of brain games online, and which I try to do every day! My special favourite is Lumosity … so many games, so many different types of games, all specifically designed for different areas of your brain!

If you participate in some of the online brain games,  do you notice when you take a break  and then come back to them, that the speed and ease at which you play them is different?  I know if I have missed the muscle exercise for a few weeks, when I play again I will be slower, it will be difficult and I will be less accurate.  It’s a little like going to the gym and working your legs really hard after not exercising for a while … painful! But your muscles, like your brain, have memory so it passes.

The heartening thing is that when you go back to exercising your brain muscle you  pick up all the skills again,very quickly.

Your Brain is not a Muscle

But it’s helpful to consider it is because it reminds us that we still need to give it a good work out. Give it some mental challenge and stimulation. Spend time nurturing your brain and try some simple activities to keep it thriving:

Read a book

Do a crossword, join in social activities, meet new people.

You could also learn a new skill or take up a new hobby; even playing an instrument can help. Remember those Recorder lessons you started as a child?!

Exercise

You know (I know you know) is just as good for the brain as it is for your body. It boosts your circulation and as the blood flow to the brain increases vital oxygen is delivered. Both cardio and strength training can boost brain health. Researchers have shown that 20 minutes of movement can facilitate information processing and memory function, as well as muscle strengthening.

● A cautionary tale of Growth Hormone

There are many older/elderly people, mostly men. who insist on taking GH and apparently witness a growth in muscle mass. It’s probably the exercise they do because it is a fact that after 60 the GH has little to no effect. In fact, it is contra-indicated for the elderly and the side-effects are not trivial. Additionally, there is no hard evidence that point to its efficacy. Of course, it could all change next year!

Diet

Diet – sugar and saturated fat are bad news for brain health as well as our bodies. 60 percent of the brain is composed of fat and should be made from essential fatty acids including omega 3 and omega 6. If you want to boost your brain health choose a Mediterranean Diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish. Try cutting down on meat and eat more plant based meals – eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and berries will also help delay cognitive decline.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vitally important in keeping our brains active and healthy.

A poor sleep pattern can impact your cognitive ability in the short-term, and there is now evidence to suggest reduced sleep can impact brain health over time. Routine and quality of sleep is important, so make sure you set a regular routine and avoid blue-light screens from your smart phones or laptops at least an hour before bed.

Meditation and mindfulness

Can have a positive impact on brain health. It has been shown that those who meditate long-term have better preserved brains than non-meditators as they age. Even if you can only fit in 5 minutes in the morning or just before you drift off to sleep, quieting the mind benefits brain health, and can help lower stress.

Small improvements make a big difference

Treating your brain with care today, ensures you are giving yourself and your brain it’s best fighting chance against dementia.

Do you exercise your brain and what do you use to do so? Do you find you’re competing against yourself to constantly improve your scores?! Are you aware of what you eat? Please share how you exercise your brain muscle; we value your opinion.

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