I have been writing about the brain recently as I read and learn more about the importance of leading a healthy brain life to reduce the chances of a malfunction in later years. We need to make smart decisions for our brain through a better diet, regular physical activity and constant mental challenges.
Here are some lighthearted tips for building a healthy brain using the alphabet.
A – Apples
Whilst eating an apple a day is a great way to keep the doctor away it’s also an excellent way to delay memory loss. Apple skins contain quercetin, which according to one study, ‘The neuroprotective potential of flavonoids: a multiplicity of effects by David Vauzour’ and others, is a chemical that provides neuroprotective properties to battle cell damage. You can also find quercetin in parsley, red wine (we knew it was medicinal!), citrus fruits, tea, sage, and onions.
B – Bulk up
Bulking up not only tones and improves your muscles but it also increases mental capacity. Resistance exercise improves cognitive function and spatial memory.
C – Carbohydrates, chewing gum and chess
Complex carbohydrates are good for your brain because without glucose you can’t think clearly or concentrate. Increasing your intake of complex carbs will increase alertness. Oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread will provide you with energy all day long whereas the benefits of energy drinks are fleeting.
Chewing gum according to Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, (Effects of chewing gum on cognitive function, mood, and physiology in stressed and non-stressed volunteers), is an excellent way to improve mood, attention, and cognitive function. In addition to its ability to improve cognitive abilities, it’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress.
It feels right to suggest that playing chess is good for the brain and multiple studies show that children who play chess for just two hours a week display enhanced mathematical and verbal skills. Despite the fact that there are no verbal communications during the game, chess improves skills by employing every ability.
D – Dark chocolate, doodling and dancing
Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which provide a short burst of a boost in cognitive abilities. Additionally, cocoa contains polyphenols, which can prevent the impairment of cognitive function found in the aging. Consuming 25 grams of sugar can provide a much-needed boost in memory and alertness. Glucose is essential for the brain, so the next time you feel your sweet tooth taking over, turn to dark chocolate.
Doodling – just because you’re doodling, doesn’t mean you’re not listening. Doodling stimulates the brain, rather than being a mindless activity. Once upon a time, journalists were stunned to discover that former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair left papers covered in doodles after participating in a panel with Bono, Bill Gates, and Bill Clinton.
Dancing – while there isn’t any evidence that dancing can reduce the risk of dementia, those who enjoy dancing regularly experience fewer symptoms. Besides, it’s fun, it’s exercise, and it’s an excellent way to improve your coordination.
E – Exploration and eating more eggs
Explore your senses – limit your senses to challenge your brain. Try eating with your eyes shut, and concentrate on the different flavors, textures, and smells of the food that you’re eating. Limiting your senses will enhance the potential of different regions of your brain.
Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is the antecedent molecule of acetylcholine. The latter improves cognitive performance, memory, and regulates body functions. According to Boston University (The Role of Acetylcholine in Learning and Memory, Michael E. Hasselmo) in addition to its role in cognitive function, acetylcholine can prevent depression and anxiety.
F – Fish food for your brain
Feed your brain with fish – according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, fish is the brain’s ultimate food, all because of omega-3 fatty acids. They contain anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, reducing the risk of stroke and improving brain function. It can also reduce the risk of depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia.
G – Golf and good conversation
Surely these two things go together unless you play golf like me and spend your time in the rough.
Golf is a great way to develop coordination, as well as spatial differentiation. Golf encourages the formation of nerve cells and neuroimaging shows that golfers have structural changes in the white and gray area of the brain.
Meanwhile, good conversation is more than passing time or building friendships, it’s effective in improving cognitive function and memory. The University of Michigan found that socialising is directly related to improving cognitive abilities.
H – Hydrate H2O
Hydrate more often. The brain requires water to function, because it increases oxygen levels and hydrates brain cells. A fluid balance is necessary for the brain to secrete hormones, transmit impulses, and produce neurotransmitters. Your brain cells require twice the energy of any cells within the body, and water provides this more effectively than anything else does.
I – Instruments
Learn an instrument. Whether you prefer the drums, keyboard or guitar, playing an instrument is fun, it’s a great way to relieve stress, provide yourself with relaxation, and entertain yourself. It goes far beyond that though, stimulating spatial and visual skills, motor control, as well as hearing.
J – Jumping up and down
Jumping up and down or any cardio exercise isn’t just a way to keep your body healthy; it keeps your brain in top form, too. According to The National Institute of Health (Exercise and the brain: something to chew on), evidence shows cardiovascular exercise has deep benefits to the brain. Not only does it delay cognitive breakdown, but also it enhances memory and learning.
K – Keep on laughing
If you can keep on laughing you’ll find that laughter is the best medicine. It’s a great way to cope with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. A big laugh increases oxygen to the brain and also allows people to think more creatively as they laugh problems off. A sunny temperament improves creativity and cognitive performance.
L – Learn a new language and mow the lawn
Being bilingual is known to prevent neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s. Studies from York University (Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain; Bialystok, et al) suggest that bilingual speakers experience a slower development of dementia symptoms, and older adults display advanced levels of cognitive function compared to monolingual adults of the same age.
Lawn mower – not only is mowing the lawn a great way to stay active, but it releases chemicals to boost memory and relieve the symptoms of stress.
M – Meditation, milk and music
Meditation is an excellent way to promote brain health, as it reduces anxiety levels by removing your head full of worry and stress. It has also been shown to improve decision-making skills, memory, and attention span. Additionally, it has physical health benefits. According to UCLA, practitioners of meditation have greater cognitive abilities, due to the increase in the gyri formation, which are folds that increase the brain’s surface area.
A glass of milk each day is an excellent way to improve thinking skills and boost memory. A study (Relation between dairy food intake and cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study; Crichton, et al) from the University of Maine and University of South Australia, Adelaide found that adults who drink milk five or six times every week have a better memory than non-milk drinkers.
Music gets you motivated and pumped to exercise, but beyond that, it kindles cognitive function as you work out. A study (Short-term effects of exercise and music on cognitive performance among participants in a cardiac rehabilitation program; Emery, et al) from Ohio State University found that combining exercise and music improved the verbal fluency of heart patients.
N – Nuts, new skills and navigation
Nuts are amazing for brainpower because they contain zinc which, according to the University of Lancashire, is effective in improving cognitive function. Nuts also contain vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that boosts cognitive function.
New skills – in his book, “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick”, Jeremy Dean suggests that it does not take too long of a time span in repeating something for it to become a habit. However long it takes, once your brain is adept at a skill, the brain no longer requires an effort to complete the task. Your brain is in automatic mode, carrying out the learned skill. This is why it’s important to regularly learn new skills to keep the brain active, engaged, and constantly stimulated.
Navigation is important for our brains. Studies from the University College London show that London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus than others do (in the case of this study, the other group studied was bus drivers), because their brains expanded to make space for their additional knowledge. Taxi drivers are focused to use their brains to navigate routes, while bus drivers travel a specific route. So, forget GPS, use your brain to navigate the next time you’re going somewhere new.
O – Organised
Since I’m disorganised myself, it’s difficult for me to accept that a mess isn’t healthy for our mental health. The brain needs to stay stimulated, so organising your space improves the aesthetic, and your cognitive functions and memory, too. You’re also less likely to lose things when your home and workspaces are clean and organised.
P – Positivity and puzzles
Positivity is incredibly beneficial for the brain. Conversely worry, stress, anxiety, and depression make a brain unhealthy. If you have a negative outlook on life, you are more likely to experience psychiatric conditions and brain disorders. You can make a change by engaging in positive affirmations and self-talk. Leave yourself notes to keep your thoughts positive, you’ll find yourself more motivated to learn new skills. I like Martin Seligman’s WWW suggestion – write down every night before bedtime ‘What’s Working Well’.
Solving puzzles is a great way to keep your brain stimulated. It’s important to mix it up and complete different types of puzzles every day. So, if you love sudoku make sure you also complete crossword puzzles, and other brainteasers. Puzzle solving increases the brain’s glucose uptake and increases oxygen, too. It’s an efficient stimulant, releasing dopamine, thus increasing new brain cell growth.
Q – Quit smoking and drinking
This might be cheating since it’s a negative but not surprisingly smoking and drinking aren’t good for your brain. Your brain relies on oxygen, and smoking sends free radicals and carbon monoxide its way instead. This injures blood vessels and decreases cognitive ability. We know that smoking causes cancer, but it also increases the risk of stroke.
Meanwhile overuse of alcohol habitually disrupts the function of the brain and especially those relating to behavior control, cognition, the ability to retain information, and the ability to judge information to make informed decisions.
U – Under hypnosis
Self-hypnosis is an effective way to alter your thought process. You can learn how to change your focus, which can reduce stress levels, increase thinking skills, as well as improve pain tolerance.
R – Relationships, reading and routine
Healthy relationships satisfy your emotional and social needs and delay or prevent mental illnesses. Dysfunctional relationships and social inadequacies are often associated with anxiety, which then results in depression and mood disorders. Studies (The relationship between social support and functional capacity in elderly persons with cognitive alterations; de Brito, et al) suggest that healthy relationships promote preservation of memory in the elderly.
Reading keeps the brain stimulated, but you can take it to the next level and improve cognitive function by tackling more complex reading material. For example crime and mystery novels are an excellent way to increase the capacity of your brain, because there is mystery, intrigue, and storylines tend to be highly involved.
I’m a fan of both routine and discomfort so I was interested to read that breaking your typical routine provides your brain with a stimulus. Changing your routine keeps your brain active and thinking. People who do the same thing every day at the same time often tend to have a decreased mental capacity. You can start changing things up by changing your coffee or food order, and switching which hand you brush your teeth with.
S – Spices, sculpture and saying it out loud
Eating spicy foods can be beneficial brain food because certain spices are effective in the preservation of cognitive function and memory. They contain polyphenols, which are known for their antioxidant properties, which serve to protect the nervous system. Additionally, polyphenols work to prevent Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and lateral sclerosis. So, what spices are helpful? Cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, and sage are great ways to boost your memory.
Sculpture along with painting are two powerful ways to develop your brain, if you sculpt or paint you’re developing new skills like textural and color discrimination, creative thinking, and spatial differentiation.
Say It Out Loud. Saying words out loud is an excellent way to improve memory. So, if you’re studying or trying to absorb new information, read out loud, it really does make a difference.
T – The afternoon nap
A nap in the afternoon or anytime helps improve memory and focus, reversing any negative effects from a sleepless night. A nap is a great way to improve alertness.
V – Vegies, vitamins and video games – yes video games!
Leafy green vegies contain vitamins and minerals that prevent dementia. Just like spices, leafy greens are rich in polyphenols, which protect the brain from disease and injury. According to the RMIT University in Melbourne, polyphenols can prevent strokes, and delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Meanwhile Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid complex vitamins play an important role in overall health and wellbeing. B12 protects the brain from injury and disease, while folic acid regulates development and neurotransmitter activity.
Video Games. Regardless of the type of video game you enjoy, it’s great for improving spatial orientation, multitasking, and vision. It’s also an excellent way to improve reaction time. My sons who adore the 2K basketball game will be delighted to hear this one.
W – Writing and wandering or wondering
Write it out – we have become accustomed to texting on phones, and typing on computers. Many people rarely have a need to write by hand. However, it remains an effective way for the brain to process information. The movement the fingers make while writing by hand activates areas of the brain related to thinking, language, and memory. So, while you may prefer to keep your to-do list in your phone, grab a pen and write it out instead. It’s also a great way to prepare yourself to sleep.
Wandering or is it a Wondering Mind. Either spelling works here because, unless you are trying to focus, it is in those moments that it increases your ability to solve problems and boosts creativity. Similarly if you are wondering, you are problem solving providing the same benefits
X – The X factor
Since I’m addicted to coffee this is my X factor but might not be yours. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, and in coffee, you have the ability to activate the area of the brain, which improves cognitive functioning. Better yet, it’s packed with antioxidants, which promote neuron recovery from stress and injury.
Research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that just an 8-ounce cup of Joe is sufficient to boost short-term memory and improve attention
Y – Yoga and your genealogy
It’s hardly surprising to learn that yoga isn’t just an excellent way to improve your spiritual and physical wellbeing but it also has brain benefits. Yoga elevates the GABA levels of the brain, which defends against mood disorders, including depression. It improves cognitive functions and levels of concentration.
Your genealogy – while it is unclear why, studies have found that those who trace their genealogy perform better in cognitive tests. It may be because discovering your roots provides you with insight to the present.
Z – ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
You may have fallen asleep well before the end of this post and that’s okay because sleep is so good for you and your brain. Studies have shown that sleep is necessary to restore neurobehavioral function, improves the ability to think, concentrate, pay attention, and improves mood. Additionally, REM sleep is necessary for memory retention.
Thank you for reading that marathon post and hopefully you have gained some ideas for building a healthy brain . Please comment via our contact page if you have any other suggestions.