Hone the grey matter

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PREPPING YOUR BRAIN FOR COGNITIVE FITNESS

Brain health is the bedrock of a rewarding and self-sufficient life. Once on the downhill slope of age, pushing back against mental decline needs a front seat.

Cognitive fitness goes far beyond memory. It embraces thinking, learning, recognition, communication and sound decision-making. The term brain health refers to how well your brain is oiled in terms of cognitive fitness; motor function (balance, as well as making and controlling movements); emotional function (good interpretation and responses to both positive and negative emotions); tactile function (the way in which you feel and respond to pressure, pain and temperature).

We all know the drill by now: stay physically active, manage HBP/cholesterol/diabetes, eat healthily, ditch tobacco, limit alcohol consumption, be social, reduce stress and keep your mind active. But there are additional non-negotiables to prevent any loose screws in the upper storey.

Food, glorious food

It all starts with food. After all, the brain’s metabolic and nutrient demands are sky-high, consuming on average 20% of a person’s daily caloric intake, so about 400 calories a day[1] 

Top of the pops are Omega-3 fatty acids. These form an integral part of neuronal cell membranes and influence a number of essential processes in the central nervous system[2] Problem is, one can only eat so much sustainable fish in a day. To the rescue comes fatty-acid-rich olive oil (splash heaps on salad), nuts and seeds. As for the latter two, the walnut is an Omega-3 fatty acid champ and seed-wise, pumpkin seeds reign supreme (they up dopamine availability in the brain, thanks to an amino acid called tyrosine).

Bank on berries too. Deeply-hued berries contain flavonoid antioxidants called anthocyanins, which likely play an important role in brain and overall health, according to clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen. He specifically lauds blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Oh, and don’t forget the veg – the more the merrier in terms of the colour palette on your plate.

Get brainy

The alpha and omega of lightening your mood and melting away negativity is to have a sense of purpose in your life. “Purpose, all by itself, increases dopamine,” said Amen in The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type.

But lest you forget, those cells need gymming. In several studies[3] scientists have found that brainy pursuits stimulate fresh connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells to hedge against future cell loss. Beneficial activities include expressive writing, playing a music instrument, maths, crossword puzzles, manual dexterity with drawing, painting and other crafts. And believe it or not: ping-pong.

Pick your type

To know what floats your boat in terms of happiness strategies, Amen recommends identifying your brain type. Because therein, as the Bard told us, lies the rub. There are five primary types: balanced, spontaneous, persistent, sensitive and cautious. Some brains thrive on peace and quiet; others get off on rock n roll; many dig thrills and spills; and warriors shine when leading the charge.

See you at the ping-pong table!

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6170050/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6170050/
[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-guide-to-cognitive-fitness