Our brain reaches its peak performance between the ages of 16-25 years and sadly cognitive decline usually starts shortly after. As human beings, we spend billions of quid a year on cosmetics to retain a youthful and glowing appearance, but we often don’t give a second thought to the grey lump of matter in our heads and keeping our brains healthy and youthful.
Think about how amazing our brains truly are. They control every single thing we will ever do! Our brain comes up with creative ideas, allows us to talk, laugh, sing, coordinate movements from chopping onions to legging it for the bus, keeps all our organs working, stores our most precious memories, makes sense of the world around us, and if we’re lucky helps us solve the Sunday crossword. Every blink, breath, and heartbeat – is controlled by our magnificent brains!
Our brain also contains about 100 billion microscopic cells - so many it would take over 3,000 years to individually count them all. Tiny chemical and electrical signals are firing in our brains 24/7. Limitless messages zip around inside it every second like a supercharged pinball machine. Our brains create and send more messages than all the phones in the entire world!
So how can we celebrate this amazing organ and keep our brains in tip-top condition?
Healthy body = healthy mind
The connection between physical and mental wellbeing has been well known since the ancient ages. “Mens sana in corpore sano” is a famous Latin expression that means a healthy body can sustain a healthy mind. Eating plant-based foods, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, such as olive oil and moving more physically, can make a huge difference. Head over to Eatingwell and Movingwell for more info.
“Prevention is better than cure and the earlier we start making lifestyle changes, the better for our brains.” Martina Ratto, Cognitive Scientist
Try new things
Building new skills throughout our lifetime - how to cook a new recipe, play the guitar, create a website, meditate, even learning the rules of new games or trying our hand at salsa dancing - helps keep our brains healthy by constantly creating new connections between brain cells.
Try experimenting with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, like drawing, painting, and other crafts. Bernard McMahon, our Beingwell founder, took up photography as a new hobby in the pandemic. Go Bernard!
Dump the worries
When we’re anxious, depressed, or worried we tend to score badly on cognitive function tests. Poor mental health can drastically hamper how well our brains work. On the flip side a healthy brain is also a shield for our mental health, meaning we’re less likely to get stuck in a rut of worrying or fall down into the hole of obsessive thinking. Grace McMahon, Beingwell Life Coach, shares a useful tip:
“At the end of the day jot down any lingering concerns and a quick to-do list for tomorrow to help settle your brain. Our thoughts are always racing, which can provoke anxiety, but when you write things down, it tells your brain it doesn't have to be concerned about those things right now."
For more advice, support, and encouragement on safeguarding our mental health, head over to Copingwell.
Instead of watching Netflix or scrolling Facebook, spend as much time as we can with friends, even if it’s online or via the phone. Why? Being in an active, sociable environment, chatting with others and solving problems is a great way to stimulate the brain. It keeps the brain healthy, agile, and active.
"When you're socialising, the blood circulates to several different parts of your brain as you're listening and formulating responses" Martina Ratto, Cognitive Scientist
Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, lower blood pressure and a longer life expectancy. So, we could actually live longer being more social! And when we’re connected with friends, we’re less likely to feel stress, anxiety, loneliness, or depression.
Sleep plays a hugely important role in keeping our brains healthy. Levels of brain activity change in each stage of sleep - including both rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM) sleep - and evidence increasingly shows that high-quality sleep enhances our brainpower. Research also shows that during sleep, the brain clears out toxins that can lead to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a sleep expert saying “you must get 8 hours sleep every night” if we’re poor sleepers. We can’t force sleep, but there are tons of tricks and tips from our resident sleep expert, James Wilson, on how we can manage our sleep better. Head on over to Sleepingwell for more info.
Parting wisdom: The brain is just like any other part of our body, it needs to be looked after and exercised in order to keep it fit, strong and functioning effectively. What small changes can we make today to nurture our super brains?