MIND THE GAP: The ‘how to’ of boosting your brain power

When it comes to mindshare, how to look after our bodies has ironically always attracted more than how to look after our minds. Fast forward to the present day, however, and we’re just as likely to be doing sudoku as squats in our quest for health and wellbeing. Yes, brain health is officially on the map! Given the benefits to our productivity, motivation..even our sleep quality, it’s no surprise that the ‘how to’ of boosting brain power has got us all talking (and thinking) at Health Magazine HQ! The approaches are many and varied, but among the simplest and most manageable tactics are: MORE SLEEP Not sleeping enough can affect how well our brain functions, so making sure we get enough shut eye is an important step in boosting memory as well as regulating mood and appetite. WATCH YOUR DIET According to Nutritionist Cassandra Barns, “a poor diet can age your brain in at least two ways. Firstly, eating lots of processed or sugary foods causes frequently high blood sugar levels. High levels of sugar in our blood can increase a process called glycation, which happens when sugars bind to proteins and fats and damage them. This accelerates ageing throughout the body, including in the brain.’ Secondly, many nutrients are needed to help nourish and protect the brain, including the omega-3 DHA, which is vital for our brain structure, vitamin B12 and choline, which are essential for our nerves, and antioxidants that help to protect and prevent damage.

One easy way of achieving a higher intake of these nutrients is swap your usual snack bars for Brainworks bars! The tasty seed and nut based snacks are a rich source of omega 3 fats, b vitamins and protein, and were developed by founder Paul Spencer following his discovery that certain foodstuffs could help his brain perform better following a brain injury.

GO WITH YOUR GUT Poor gut health can lead to systemic inflammation, which can be linked to cognitive decline. Taking steps to rebalance gut bacteria is therefore potentially a useful step toward improving focus and concentration. CHALLENGE YOURSELF Mental stimulation from games and puzzles can help to keep the mind active, which is associated with better memory. Dr Marilyn Glenville suggests the following simple games to give your brain a workout: “Counting backwards from 100 in 2s, 3s or 4s 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? Word games help build the brain’s left hemisphere, which in right handed people usually controls language and reasoning . Mazes and jigsaw puzzles can bolster the right hemisphere, which controls orientation and visual skills. BE SOCIAL Socialising means having to pay attention to what people are saying, and use memory to recall information, both of which are useful for mental agility. LEARN A LANGUAGE Learning foreign language can boost your creativity and ability to focus by building neural connections, as well as giving you ‘a cognitive reserve’ that helps to protect against age related changes. KNIT Knitting stimulates almost all of your brain, since it requires you to say focused, use visual information and synchronise it with your movements. DANCE Trying to learn the flow and rhythm of music stimulates cognitive activity, while learning and performing steps is great for both your memory and your physical fitness, which links back to brain health. WRITE IT DOWN Studies have shown that the act of writing something down forces your brain to recall it in a way that typing on your phone or computer does not. LAUGH Laughing can help minimise the damage that stress hormone cortisol can cause (cortisol damages certain neurons in our brain and affects learning ability as well as memory). KEEP FIT New research from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has found that those who are more aerobically fit are more likely to have better memories. Exercise improves circulation and delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the brain, as well as helping with blood sugar control, both of which are important for helping delay brain ageing.

Aerobic exercise, in particular, can protect the brain from damage and stimulates the production of new brain cells responsible for memory and emotions. In addition, physical activity that challenges you mentally, for example table tennis and dancing, has been shown to create new connections within the brain. BRAIN TRAINNG Challenging the brain with a wide range of activities which work all the senses allows new connections to be created, and processing speed to be maintained. The wider the range of activities you use, the more you will stimulate different parts of your brain. For example, you can read, write, do a crossword, use your non-dominant hand for everyday activities like brushing your teeth, take up a new hobby or try a brain training programme. Some brain training programmes include The Super Able Mind Method, Head Strong and BrainHQ. GET SOME AIR Our body’s cells need a regular supply of high quality oxygen to function at peak levels and for renewall processes. Equally, vitamin D from sunlight is important as deficiencies may increase the risk of memory problems and cognitive decline. REDUCE STRESS Stress is often at the route of sleeping troubles and poor diet choices, so has both direct and indirect implications for brain health. In fact, recent study revealed that just one major stressful experience could age your brain by up to 4 years! 

Sponsored by Brainworks.