According to the Alzheimer's Association, rates are increasing and increasing fast. I recently did my genetic testing and found that I carry a few genes that have been directly associated with Alzheimer's risk. Although I am always trying to ensure I take care of my brain, I'm taking it even more seriously now. When it comes to overall health for our brain and body, it's the things we do every day that result in long term success. Here are 5 ways to improve your brain health every day.
1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. When we are inflamed, we cannot control where that inflammation goes. If your body is inflamed, you better believe that your brain is inflamed, too. Symptoms can include brain fog, difficulty sleeping at night or staying awake during the day, difficulty remembering things, headaches, neck pain, depression or anxiety. The food you eat is not only fuel for your body, but information from the outside world and signaling for your hormones. High quality foods including animal protein, fat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds will all help your body to function at its optimal capacity. When we overload our system with sugary drinks, processed foods including cereal, cake, cookies, pasta and anything else that comes in a box with a label or through a fast food window, we are contributing to a lower functioning system. Not only will you feel and function poorly today, you are increasing your chances of much more serious and chronic issues in the future. If you intend on having children, you will also pass these risks on to them.
2. Move every day. General movement not only contributes to our body's wellbeing, but also our brain's. Movement has not only been found to keep the brain sharp, but it's also been found to heal damaged cells. It improves information processing and memory. It helps create more pathways and connections. It has also been found to improve depression and anxiety as well or better than antidepressants. Moving outdoors, newly touted as getting Vitamin N, can also improve happiness and brain health. This doesn't have to be an hour at the gym. This simply needs to be recognizing how much you are sitting during the day and standing up and moving around more. Never sit longer than 30 minutes at a time.
3. Use your non-dominant hand. I've been brushing my teeth with my left hand since November 2016. Although it still feels a bit awkward, I'm getting much better. When we use our right hand, we mostly activate the left side of our brain. When we use our left hand, we mostly activate the right side of our brain. If we are constantly doing things with just one hand, we are inadvertently creating a much more dominant side of the brain. The more often we do things with the non-dominant side, the more brain power we will use. Brush your teeth, drink, mouse or simply grab more things with your non dominant.
4. Practice balancing. The ability to balance is a good indicator of how your brain is talking to your body and how your body is talking to your brain. Maintaining the ability to stand on one foot for 30 seconds is a good marker to shoot for. I check this on every patient. If you want something more challenging, stand on a soft surface. If you want something even more challenging close your eyes. Wobble boards, Bosu balls, skateboarding, snowboarding, standing on one foot while doing upper body exercises, dancing and yoga are all great ways to improve your balance. Double the fun by balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand!
5. Stand up straight. Good posture is a great way to improve your brain function. When you consciously stand up straight you will automatically feel happier, stronger and healthier. It will also improve the way the outside world looks at you. When we stand up straight or extend the spine, we stimulate brain function much more then when we are sitting or standing with poor posture (in a flexed position). That's why when we are waking up the morning we stretch our arms above our head and lean back (activating extension). This can be as easy as setting a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes when you are sitting to stand up and stretch over head. You do not need to do a long exercise program to negate the negative affects of prolonged sitting. You simply need to stand up for a few seconds and stretch your arms overhead to stimulate brain activation and thus, productivity.
Staying healthy does not have to be overwhelming and complicated. You will ensure health through your daily habits, not a month long exercise program. Being healthy is not temporary. If you want to be healthy until the end of your life, you need to make it a priority today and every day. If you intend on having children or already have children, you need to ensure they are living a healthy life, too. What you do is directly influencing them much more than you can even imagine.