Keep Your Brain Healthy: Train Your Brain

10 Sep

We all know the benefits of exercise and healthy living. It’s good for your body. You have less risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and other ailments. It’s important to keep your brain healthy too!

Here’s how:

1) Get cardio exercise. It improves blood flow to the brain which helps the brain repair itself and build new brain cells. If you read about the brain today, you’ll come across the word “plasticity” which means that the brain has a surprising ability to change over time. The healthier your body is, the healthier your brain will be. Just like biceps or belly fat, the brain can get better or worse, depending on our actions. The building of new brain cells is called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis can happen in anybody, regardless of age.

2) Avoid getting hit in the head. Well, duh. If you walked into a boxing gym in the 1980s and started talking about “brain damage,” many boxers would argue that brain damage doesn’t happen to every boxer. Today, we know better.

In non-technical terms, the brain is relatively soft and gel like. The skull is bone and hard. When the brain gets bounced around, it smashes up against the skull. It develops tiny cuts. These cuts are a source of a plaque that cause problems.

The sad fact: Any serious amateur or professional boxer with six or seven years of serious training and competitive fights has some level of brain damage. It’s unavoidable.

More powerful blows to the brain can cause concussions. Repeated concussions are especially bad. If you suffer a concussion, you must let your brain fully heal before you risk injury again.

Some sports commentators predict that American football will cease to exist in the next thirty years, because of the risk of head injury. Many professional football players will not let their younger children play full contact football.

Be sure your children wear helmets when they bike or skateboard. In my time, this would have been seen as a sissy thing. The truth: protecting your head is always smart.

3) Reduce stress. Stress floods the brain with harmful chemicals. One study showed poor people make worse decisions because they’re under financial stress. If you can remove the source of stress that’s best. If you can’t, meditation can help people deal with stress. Exercise relieves stress too. Laughter reduces stress. Building strong social ties reduces stress.

4) Use it or lose it. To prevent mental decline we must challenge our brains. The fancy term given to this is “cognitive engagement.” Engage your brain in a challenging activity. Read a book, learn to play chess. In fact: Learn anything new. Whatever it is, is up to you. The process of learning will create new connections between brain cells that will keep your brain functioning at its best.

Mindfulness or concentrated thought is good for the brain. It doesn’t matter if its reading, meditation, or gardening. Mindfulness is all about learning to do one thing and give it your full attention. The more challenging it is, the better.

5) Eat healthy. It’s believed foods rich in antioxidants, like blueberries, protect the brain. A balanced diet that’s good for the body is good for the brain.

The opposite is true too: An unhealthy diet can damage the brain. Too much fat and sugar damages the hypothalamus. This can interfere with the body’s metabolism. It takes a long time to repair the damage, but the brain can heal with changes in diet. This is believed to be one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for overweight people to lose the extra pounds.

6) Engage the senses. The brain has a surprising number of jobs. It deals with sight, sound, touch, and smell. It can be rational or creative. It deals with emotions. It processes language. Certain parts of the brain have even been found to be active in spelling words. If, like me, you’re a lousy speller, blame it on your brain! That part of your brain just isn’t up to snuff.

Learning new motor skills forces the brain to learn and adapt. Lawrence C. Katz, author of Keep Your Brain Alive, coined the term neurobics to refer to brain exercises which engaged the senses in unique ways. You’ve probably heard about trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. This is a neurobic activity.

When you use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, you engage both sides of your brain. Watch a child use a spoon and you’ll see motor skills need to be honed through practice. We aren’t born with them.

For more of a challenge, try occasionally writing with your non-dominant hand. Other creative ways Katz likes to engage more of the senses: Learn some Braille. Reading with your fingers is no small thing. Or learn American sign language. Talk with your fingers, listen with your eyes.

The one thing I was shocked not to see in Katz’s book was dance. Dance could well be the ultimate neurobic activity. Even just taking a few steps backward powerfully engages the brain. Learn to dance GANGNAM STYLE and improve your ability to think on your feet.

One neurobic suggestion from Katz will go over well with preppers: He likes searching for edible wild plants or trying to identify flowers and trees. That can engage a sense of vision, touch, and smell. In the modern world, we let many of our senses wither and die. Get outside and enjoy nature. It’s a richer environment than a cubicle.

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