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The importance of maintaining an active mind

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What is brain health?

As the World Health Organisation defines it, ‘brain health is the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural and motor domains’. In other words, brain health governs our ability to think, feel, move and act.

We talk a lot about heart health and the condition of other major organs such as the lungs and liver. However, the health of our brain is much less discussed, even though our mind is vital to being able to live well.

What can affect brain health?

The three main factors that can affect brain health are chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, family history, and how we live. In terms of our lifestyle, the four factors that have the greatest impact on brain health are likely to be too much sitting, a lack of socialising, inadequate sleep and chronic stress.

Deteriorating brain health causes decreased cognitive and physical function, reducing our ability to live independently and our enjoyment of everyday life. Thankfully, it’s been shown that we can improve our brain health to reduce the risk of dementia and age-related cognitive decline.

How to look after your brain

Mental challenges

Testing your mind with new and complex challenges helps you to stay sharp, which is an essential component of maintaining brain health.

Methods of mental stimulation include completing logic puzzles and playing games of chance like bingo and cards, learning a new skill like a language or musical instrument, and switching up your typical routine with new routes and recipes.

Heal your heart

Increasingly, there seems to be a link between heart health and our brain. Taking steps to minimise the symptoms of conditions that put stress on the heart such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes should help to protect our brain health for the future.

  • Diet. Focus on developing a balanced diet that is easy to maintain for a lifetime. Think about introducing more good food rather than restriction as this often feels much more manageable and sustainable. Eat more fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses for fibre and choose lean meat and wholegrains over processed meat and simple carbohydrates. Limit unnatural sugars and artificial sweeteners and avoid all ultra-processed food. Cutting out alcohol will also help to reduce brain damage.
  • Exercise. Exercise can also help to control, lower or even reverse heart-stressing conditions like cholesterol. It will also boost your mental well-being which is also important for healthy brain function. Start off with straightforward changes like walking more and taking the stairs instead of the lift. You can then introduce a more complex exercise routine that combines cardio activities with strength training.

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