It is no longer enough to keep the body in optimal condition. The current pace of life marked by stress, anxiety derived from a threatening environment and a collective mentality that invites constant dissatisfaction put brain health in check. This relatively new concept is related to neuronal development, plasticity, function and recovery throughout life. According to the WHO, “good brain health is a state in which each individual can perform their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological and behavioral functioning to cope with life situations.”
More and more remedies in pill form promise to limit brain fatigue or improve brain functions. Vitamins of group B, phosphatidylserine and other exotic supplements such as ‘ashgawanda’ (bufera or Indian ginseng) have become part of the well-known “food for the brain”.
Five Simple Habits That Improve Mental Performance
But improving mental clarity, curbing carelessness and lack of creativity is possible with simple habits that help improve cognition, learning and lead a more satisfying life experience. These are the scientific reasons why these good (and easy) practices are the best allies to keep the governing body working at full capacity for many years.
Hydrate the brain
One of the simplest habits that can interfere with brain health is hydration. About 75% of the brain is made up of water. The intake of this liquid helps maintain blood pressure and a correct cellular metabolism, essential functions for the machinery to work. “The lack of hydration influences the whole body, also the brain. It affects the intellectual capacity, the memory, to capture the information that we receive and the attention. A 2% lack of fluids can be dangerous ”, explains dr. Rosa Casafont, a doctor specializing in neuroscience. Dizziness, fatigue, cramps and rapid heartbeat are some of the symptoms that indicate that the body needs to hydrate. The general recommendation is to drink about two liters of water, little by little throughout the day. Around 20% of the hydration that the body needs can be obtained through fruits, vegetables and natural juices of both.
However, there are certain occasions when hydration deserves special attention. In adolescents and young adults, the most common cause of loss of water and salts is usually excessive physical exercise or heat stroke. “These factors must be taken into account and when the activity is more intense or it is hotter, take serum with minerals and electrolytes, in addition to the water content,” adds Casafont.
There are times when thirst does not alert you to the need for hydration, for example, in older adults. “The hypothalamus is a hormonal regulation center (also of thirst and hunger) and when we get older it is not as efficient in detecting the lack of water and we are not thirsty. We have to be aware of this fact and, despite this, try to drink continuously ”, explains the doctor.
The anti-aging brain diet
Science has shown that what you eat directly influences brain health. In fact, science has confirmed how the Mediterranean diet (combined with Dash – a recommended method of preventing hypertension -) can slow brain aging for an average of seven and a half years. “A diet like the Mediterranean provides nutrients that help the body age more slowly. These include polyphenols, folates, vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids ”, suggests the neuroscience specialist.
The protective function of the diet at the brain level is not only based on choosing a certain type of food (green leafy vegetables, blue fish, nuts and olive oil), but also on avoiding others. Especially the excess of red meat, saturated fat, smoked and sugar.
Restful sleep, a priority
Numerous studies have shown that sleep loss affects attention, memory, and executive functions. Sleep protects the immune system and memory. In addition, during it, circuits that could damage mental health are eliminated and what is worth storing is kept in the definitive memory. In other words, “we are paranoid at night, not to be so during the day” as Crick and Mitchison put it. It is while we dream that we do that work ”, indicates Casafont. According to the World Council on Brain Health, having a regular sleep-wake schedule is associated with better brain health. The indications of this organism to guarantee a quality sleep include sleeping between 7 or 8 hours, as well as maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Physical routine for mental development
The many benefits of sports practice also include brain health. According to research conducted in older adults, a year of regular exercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus by 2% (a structure located in the temporal lobes and which is an excellent memory manager). The hippocampus shrinks, with stress, depression, social isolation, and other illnesses such as Enf. Alzheimer’s … its atrophy, something that scientists point to as the main reason that older adults suffer memory loss. The study shows that regular exercise can help slow or even reverse them.
“Physical activity causes changes at the cellular level, in brain functions and in its capacities. For example, more neurons are made when we exercise. Likewise, it increases the ability to be resilient in adulthood if it has been practiced from an early age and, in addition, it improves cognitive reserve (the brain’s ability to age more slowly), Casafont shares. To enjoy this, it is recommended to do physical activity daily, between 45 minutes or an hour.
Enjoy the silence
“Noise affects quality of life and mental health indicators. In fact, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the second environmental cause of health problems, just behind atmospheric pollution (suspended particles) ”, they indicate from the European Environment Agency. Noise pollution is not the only one that can influence the optimal functioning of the brain, also the lack of spaces for silence. “When we allow ourselves those spaces, our brain without sleep regenerates being active,” explains Casafont.
One of the ways to integrate silence during wakefulness is meditation, which also provides other benefits on the governing body. “Meditation causes, especially in habitual meditators, attentional and emotional changes. On an emotional level, we know that anger and fear circuits are destroyed in the brain amygdala. They are deconfigured and others of kindness and compassion are created in another structure, the anterior cingulate ”, adds the neuroscience specialist. In addition, this practice helps to reduce repetitive thoughts, increase the feeling of balance and improve the ability to concentrate. “It is possible to concentrate more easily, without so much energy expenditure and even to be much more adept at attending to rapid stimuli that arise,” he adds.
Read and write on paper
Regaining the habit of writing, in a present day dominated by voice notes and digital writing marked by the thumbs, has therapeutic effects. Especially if the subject is the person himself. “Psychologically, when we write about ourselves, we are doing an ordering of our thoughts. It is a form of self-therapy. This occurs because we are capable of expressing what torments us and putting it in its place. It is a way of releasing, it reduces the anxiety or sadness that we may have at a certain moment ”, recommends Casafont, which includes among its advantages the ability to daydream with all the benefits that it entails.
On the other hand, reading turns on all areas of the brain. Reading creates new connections between different parts of this organ, such as those that control language processing, research indicates. This same study indicates that it causes long-term changes in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sensory information. This activity also improves the ability to learn, remember and critical ability. According to another 14-year study, those who read one or more times a week were less likely to have cognitive decline at 6- and 14-year intervals.