Boosting you brain health
I see a lot of advertising in the media for brain-training programs and games such as Luminosity, but are these things the best way to optimize your brain? The short answer is an unequivocal no. Aside from the fact that you are sitting on your but to do these programs (which in itself is bad for your brain), there are much better ways to optimise that mass of jelly in your head!
Some ways to boost your brain are well established in the research, and some other techniques are just emerging. Following is a well-rounded plan for getting the best out of your noggin!
This boosts critical growth factors such as BDNF, FGF, VEGF and IGF-1, and also provides blood flow and oxygen, which are critical for brain health. For best results, a combination of short duration, high-intensity interval training combined with a baseline of lots of walking. Avoid excessive endurance training due to increased oxidative stress.
A diet based on real food with low processed food (especially sugar and processed carbohydrates) is critical for brain function. In terms of individual nutrients, the most critical nutrient for the brain is the omega 3 fat DHA from fish (the conversion of plant-based omega 3s to DHA is very poor), which help neurons to grow and communicate. Vitamin B12 also plays lots of roles important to brain function and iron is important for oxygen transport; good quality meat (especially organ meats) will provide lots of this. Lastly, curcumin seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent research has shown that sleep is critical for clearing toxins out of the brain, which is probably why chronically poor sleep is associated with greater incidences of Alzheimer’s, depression and other brain conditions. Aim for between seven and eight hours a night.
This is absolutely critical to drive neuroplasticity, which will make your brain healthy and robust. Learning a new language or a musical instrument is great, as is continual education and doing new things, meeting new people and seeing new places. A highly routine life is like death by a thousand cuts for the brain!
Research has shown that this has a positive influence on gene expression and improves brain function. Recent research has shown that regular mindfulness practice can increase grey matter density in the brain!
While some stress is necessary for us to develop and grow, chronic stress creates an inflammatory cascade in the brain, so dealing effectively with stress is important for a healthy brain. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, exercise and other relaxation techniques are good ways to protect against too much stress.