A Different Sort of Training: Activities That Enhance Brain Health

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By: David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.N., Chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute
 
Medical advancements and increasing awareness on nutrition and fitness are contributing to extend life expectancy in the United States. The population age 65 and over is projected to almost double to 98 million in 2060, according to The Population Reference Bureau. Everyday an average of 10,000 people reach age 65, which makes brain health a relevant matter in terms of public health.
 
It is estimated that one of three Americans over the age of 65 will die of dementia. Eighty percent of those individuals will have underlying heart disease. So reducing cardiovascular risk factors is an important aspect of brain health.
 
Brain health has four distinct components: Attention, Memory, Cognition, and Mood. For a task to stimulate your brain enough to exercise it, it must be novel and complex so that multiple areas in the brain are involved. Advances in brain imaging have allowed scientists to look at brain function while tasks are being performed to see which brain areas are involved. Here are some fun ideas on activities that can contribute to stimulate your brain in order to maintain brain activity which some experts believe canreduce the risks to your brain functioning as you age:
 
Neurobic Exercises
 
The neurobiologist Lawrence Katz coined this term to describe brain exercises that enhance brain performance by using all five senses in new and novel ways. These exercises are great because they stimulate growing new connections between brain cells. To get started, try these exercises:
 

  • Switch Hands:Try using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, holding your fork or moving your computer mouse.
  • Read Books Aloud:Brain imaging has shown that three distinct brain regions light up when the same word is read, spoken, or heard.
  • Take New Routes:taking an unfamiliar route when walking, biking, or riding public transportation activates the cortex and hippocampus.

 
Engage in learning a long-term new ability
 
Learning new things is always a good idea, but it’s not the same to master a new dish than to learn a language or play an instrument. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for the aging mind. Learning languages or playing musical instruments are great endeavors because there is always a step further you can take your achievements.
 
Meditate
 
You may be wondering why does relaxing count as exercising your mind. Picture this: your brain is a non-stop thinking machine, so exercising control over that flow of thoughts is one of the most challenging things to try. According to the National Institutes of Health, meditation may increase the brain’s ability to process information and slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.
 
Remember to complement these exercises with good, balanced nutrition and regular physical activity: engaging in multiple healthy behaviors that keep your heart and your brain healthy –rather than sticking to just one– significantly enhances overall brain health.

 

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