The world is obsessive about how we look on the outside – but what’s going on in our brains and how well they function is much more important in the grand scheme of things.
Our mental health has an enormous impact on our day-to-day lives and those in the know say we should be spending as much time giving our brains a workout as we do looking after our bodies.
In a time when we are paying far more attention to our mental wellbeing than before – but not enough, according to experts – there are ways to future proof our brains.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist and author of Natural Solutions for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, gives us tips on how we can give our mental agility a much-needed boost.
Get more sleep
Not sleeping properly can not only affect our energy levels and looks but also our brain functions.
Getting enough shut-eye can help support learning and memory, as well as regulate our mood or even appetite and libido.
When looking at the brain of someone who is sleep-deprived, scientists have found reduced metabolism and blood flow in multiple brain regions.
Making friends and socialising has a great impact on our emotional wellbeing as well as brain functions.
How? When speaking to people and building relationships, you have to pay attention to what they say and then use your memory to recall information to be able to hold a conversation.
Pick up a foreign language
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Did you know that learning a foreign language can actually make your brain bigger?
It can also boost your creativity and ability to focus.
But most importantly, learning another language gives you ‘a cognitive reserve’ that helps to protect against the changes that can occur during ageing.
Dr Marilyn Glenville explains: “Speaking a second language throughout your life could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
“Studies show that people who speak two languages may develop dementia more than four years later than those who speak only one.
“Language learning leads to more neural connections, more neural stability and more resilience to neural damage.”
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“Research suggests that playing a musical instrument when you are older can give you a 36% lower risk of developing dementia and cognitive damage,” says Dr Glenville.
Can’t play an instrument? Don’t worry, singing can help too.
“Think how easily you can remember the words of songs that you sang years ago – and yet how much harder it often is to remember a poem or piece of prose that isn’t set to music.
“Word sequences are far more memorable when they are sung rather than spoken.”
Apparently knitting is set to be the new baking.
It isn’t just something elderly women do and it has recently become popular with celebrities.
Apart from helping you to relax it can also boost your mental health as it stimulates almost all of your brain.
When knitting, you need to stay focused, plan what you’re doing in advance and also use visual information and synchronise it with your movements.
Teach your body a new skill
There is a range of techniques to keep your brain alert that don’t have to be paper-based cognitive tasks.
Dr Glenville says: “Walking in a new park or taking up line dancing fires up new neural pathways that keep your brain in touch.
“Needing to remember the steps to a dance is also a wonderful workout for your brain – learning the flow and rhythm of the music stimulates cognitive activity, while learning and performing the steps is great for both your memory and your physical fitness.
“Active learning is the perfect complement for doing jigsaws, Sudoku and crosswords.”
Write things down
Studies have shown that the act of writing something down forces your brain to recall it in a way that typing on your computer or phone does not.
Set yourself little challenges
Dr Glenville suggests the following simple games to give your brain a workout: “Counting backwards from 100 in twos, threes or fours is a good one, and you can make it harder by doing something else at the same time, such as tapping your foot.
Or try the ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ game – think of a theme, such as ‘food’, and name as many items relevant to the theme as you can in one minute.”
Most people can do 30. Can you double it?
Who doesn’t love laughing? It not only lifts your mood but it’s also a great calorie burner.
However, researchers have also discovered that laughing can also minimise the damage that stress hormone, cortisol can cause (it damages certain neurons in our brain and affects learning ability as well as memory).
On top of that, laughter produces wave frequencies similar to a true state of meditation.