Your levels of concentration and energy are related to brain health!
Your brain is part of your central nervous system, it’s the control hub for your body. It comprises billions of nerve cells, called neurons, which control all the essential functions of your body. These neurons are involved in thinking and learning.
Throughout life, there are many factors that may affect the health of your brain, and how well it works.
Factors that can affect your brain health, concentration and sleep
When you are exposed to stress, your body goes through a series of reactions known as the ‘stress response’. Part of this stress response is the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit nerve impulses), and hormones called glucocorticoids. Long term exposure to these stress hormones can have an impact on brain structure. In adults these changes are seen in the hippocampus – an area of the brain involved in memory, and thinking.
Good nutrition is important for brain health. Ensuring you have adequate amounts of B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids may help support brain health, and reduce the cognitive decline associated with aging.
Diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, cereals and fish are associated with better brain health and cognitive function, while those that are high in fat – especially trans fats, and saturated fats – may have negative effects on brain health.
Dehydration can affect the structure of your brain, and may also decrease your brain fluid volume. Dehydration of the brain can lead to shrinking of brain cells, resulting in water being unable to move between cells, blood and the ventricles of the brain. This can have negative effects on cognitive function.
Many cognitive functions – such as learning, memory and attention can be affected by age. Age-related changes may even begin as early as your 20s and 30s. The physical changes to the brain that occur as you age, can also affect brain function – these include: accumulation of fat deposits in the cells of the brain, and neurone loss, which results in the brain getting smaller.
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of compounds, many of which are toxic to the brain. Smoking may cause physical changes to the structure of your brain, and may also accelerate the decline of cognitive functions such as memory, learning and processing speed.
Maintaining your brain health is important for every system of your body. Here are some tips you can follow to keep your mind sharp.
Diet tips for a healthier brain
“Prevention is better than cure” – and one of the best ways to help support your brain health is through diet.
- Include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
- Ensure you eat enough protein
- Include plenty of omega-3 fats in your diet – the best sources are deep sea, cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring
- Avoid very low carbohydrate diets. Carbohydrates convert to glucose, which is an essential source of energy for your brain. When choosing carbohydrates – choose low GI options such as porridge, natural muesli, wholegrain breads, and brown rice
- Include plenty of vitamin B rich foods in your diet such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables and dairy foods
- Ginkgo – Ginkgo biloba may support brain health – with studies showing that it may improve aspects of cognitive function such as short-term memory, and speed of cognitive processing
- Curcumin (Turmeric)- the active ingredient found in Turmeric root -has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Curcumin may support alertness and calmness during times of increased mental demand and may support healthy mood
- Keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum
Lifestyle tips for a healthier brain
Mental exercise is vital – use it or lose it! Researchers have found that mental exercises can improve memory function. Your brain is like a muscle – you have to train it regularly or it may lose some strength. There are lots of options – try some of these:
- Read widely – try a mix of magazines, newspapers, books and web surfing
- Learn to play a musical instrument, or to speak a new language
- Take up a new hobby
- Do crossword and Sudoku puzzles
- Play games that make you think – like Chess, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and cards
- Be social – recent studies have found a link between social isolation, and poor brain health. Catch up with family and friends regularly, try volunteering, and participate in local community groups and social events.
- Reduce stress – try regular relaxation practices to keep stress levels under control. Techniques like meditation and mindfulness are helpful. Recent research has found they can positively change our brain chemistry, reducing the chemicals which are produced in response to stress.
- Physical exercise – aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Exercise will increase oxygen circulation to the brain, and helps to improve cognitive functions such as memory, and reasoning.
- Sleep – ensure you are getting enough, good quality sleep each night. Poor sleep, or lack of sleep will affect your memory, concentration and ability to learn.