Mental health and cognitive health, the two primary components of brain health, are fundamental to our ability to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives. Our brains are largely responsible for how we feel, think, act, and move each day, and, like any other part of our body, our brains must be cared for and nurtured to maintain health and function.
Think of your brain as you would the muscles in your body. Like muscles, the brain needs to be regularly exercised, strengthened, and supported. By regularly stimulating the mind and body and engaging in brain-boosting activities, you can create healthy habits that support brain health both in the short- and long-term.
It’s never too early or too late to create healthy habits. Small changes in your day-to-day routine can have a big impact on your mental and cognitive health. While supporting brain health requires a well-rounded approach and several key elements of healthy living, these brain-boosting activities are a great place to start.
Meditation is the practice of being aware of the feelings and sensations that your mind and body are experiencing and allowing these feelings to flow through you. Over the past several decades, researchers have unveiled an impressive array of potential benefits of meditation for brain health, ranging from improved mental and behavioral health to enhanced cognitive function.
Preliminary research suggests that in addition to promoting relaxation, mindfulness meditation may shift cognitive patterns, emotional processing, and behavior, creating improvements in health, quality of life, and the ability to engage in meaningful relationships with others.
A 2015 study found that mindfulness meditation has the potential to affect self-referential processing and improve present-moment awareness. The study also suggests that mindfulness practice may enhance attention and concentration.
Other studies suggest that regular mindfulness meditation may induce neuroplasticity phenomena, including the reduction of age-related brain degeneration and the improvement of cognitive functions, such as working memory, spatial abilities, and long-term memory.
From taking a stroll through your local park to taking in the scenery on a hike in the mountains, being outside in nature can be restorative and grounding. While spending time in nature is one of the more surprising brain-boosting activities, emerging research suggests that experiencing or even viewing scenes of nature may provide potential benefits such as:
Although research surrounding nature’s effect on the brain is still in the preliminary stages, increasing scientific evidence suggests that experiencing or viewing elements of nature is associated with physiological relaxation.
Few things stimulate the brain in the way that music does. Imaging studies have shown that music simultaneously stimulates many regions of the brain, including those responsible for mood, language, attention, executive function, movement, hearing, sight, sound, and touch. Music can also help produce more of the brain’s mood-enhancing chemicals, including serotonin and dopamine.
While research surrounding the cognitive benefits of music is in the early stages, many studies suggest that music may reduce agitation, improve overall mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and increase social engagement. Consequently, music therapy has been widely adopted as a potential non-pharmacological therapy for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body—and your brain. It’s commonly known that routine exercise can help with controlling your weight, improving your mood, boosting your energy, and promoting restful sleep. However, many of us are unaware that regular exercise may boost cognitive function and protect your brain from cognitive decline.
Exercise supports the brain both directly and indirectly. Exercise can stimulate the release of molecular targets, such as the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN), which increases the formation of synapses, making it easier for us to learn and retain information. Exercise also improves mood and sleep and reduces anxiety and depression, all of which can contribute to cognitive decline.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, regular exercise may reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30%. For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, regular exercise may reduce the risk of developing dementia by 45%.
Human beings are inherently social creatures. We thrive on making and maintaining social relationships. Social interactions are not only important for our emotional well-being but also our cognitive health.
A growing body of research suggests that strong social connections are important for brain health, as socializing is believed to strengthen neural networks and stimulate attention and memory.
Experts believe that people with more frequent social contact may be less likely to experience cognitive decline. Results from a 2019 study indicated that loneliness was associated with a 40% increased risk of dementia.
How and where we spend our time plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being, including our mental and cognitive health. Understanding how our actions and lifestyles impact our brains allows us to take charge of our brain health, all while promoting overall health and wellness.
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