Brain fitness: Stay sharp, stay young!

Your brain is quite literally the powerhouse that controls your body, and your genes, lifestyle and habits all affect how healthy and effective it is. Hello Doctor spoke to psychologist Mitzi Hollander, who’s involved in brain training theories and practises, about ways you can help prevent mental deterioration, and how you can improve and boost mental fitness.

What is brain fitness?

Brain fitness is a technique which trains the brain to perform at top levels and to stay sharp well into old age. It uses different types of brain training such as reflection, memory and IQ tests, spatial intelligence, reflex actions, and brain stretching and creativity. Some examples would be:

  • Playing an instrument helps you exercise interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).
  • If you’re right-handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice-versa). Start with brushing your teeth left-handed, and practice until you have perfected it.
  • Jigsaw puzzles entail mentally “rotating” the pieces, manipulating them in your hands, and shifting your attention from the small piece to the “big picture.”

Crosswords are fun and can help improve your ability to find words, but they won’t help your brain’s overall cognition or memory. Rather try new or surprising activities which exercise the brain machinery that keeps you bright and alert!

Physical exercise is also good for your brain

Aerobic exercise helps build new neurons and connections in the brain, which help to counteract the effects of stress. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better, reduces symptoms of depression and increases the “feel-good” hormone in your brain.

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A study on how different kinds of exercise affect the brain, showed that ballroom dancing had the highest impact on cognitive functioning. This is because the best brain health workouts involve activities that use different parts of the brain, such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy, at the same time. In fact, the only physical activity found to offer protection against dementia was regular dancing!

Eat well for a healthy brain!

  • Artichokes and asparagus are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and folic acid – which are all good for healthy cognitive functioning.
  • Bananas are full of vitamins B6 and C, which help with brain fitness.
  • Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories – perhaps more than any other type of food – so make them a part of your daily diet if you can.
  • Chicken (without the skin) is a lean protein and source of choline and vitamins B6 and B12 – which all help with clear thinking and memory.
  • Cinnamon – for the smell and the taste! Research shows that smelling cinnamon can improve attention and memory in the short term, and that the compounds in cinnamon could help prevent Alzheimer’s.
  • Oily, cold water fish including salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, and tuna are all great sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which help protect brain health in new born babies and improve cognitive performance in adults.
  • Tomatoes are one of the few foods which are naturally rich in lycopene, which is also essential for keeping up your brain’s cognitive performance.