Think about keeping your brain strong today and every day in honor of Brain Awareness Week
Did you know that this week, March 13-19, 2017, is Brain Awareness Week? First, let me tell you what Brain Awareness Week is all about. Brain Awareness Week, the third week in March, is dedicated to promoting public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives promotes this campaign to partners globally. As someone who invests in promoting brain health here in Illinois, I want to share about lifestyle choices you can make in order to keep your brain healthy and strong.
Healthy brains benefit from:
- Getting enough and good sleep
- Eating a heart healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing your stress
- Having social/emotional support
- Stimulating your brain with newness, novelty and increasing difficulty of activities
There is value in each of these, but today I want to focus on the research that has been done on brain health and exercise and activities that include newness, novelty and increasing difficulty.
I have focused an entire article before about the benefits about physical activity and brain health, but it bears to say again that there has been lot of research in the area of how beneficial physical activity is to not only our bodies but also our brains. Aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your blood flowing, carries needed nutrients and oxygen to the brain. In addition to the aerobic benefits, the activities often engage the brain, thereby increasing brain efficiency, reaction time, and ability to concentrate. Physical activity also promotes new neural growth and healthy neural connections.
One of the most renowned researchers in the area of brain health is Dr. Art Kramer, former Director of the University of Illinois Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. When he was asked what are three lifestyle habits that we can execute to improve our brain health his reply was:
- Be active by engaging in 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity three days a week
- Participate in intellectual activities
- Engage in social interaction
For optimal benefit combine all three!"
Now let us talk about participating in stimulating activities with newness, novelty and increasing difficulty. Dr. Kramer mentions intellectual activities and social interaction, both of which are great for the brain. Being socially active is mentally challenging. You have to both follow and contribute to the conversation, as it is spontaneous. I hope that you are engaging in conversations that are novel and engaging for you.
Another way to engage in newness is to try new things, explore new places, learn new games and learn new skills, even languages. However, they need to be of interest to you and something that you enjoy so you will stay engaged with it even if it is challenging. If you do not enjoy the activity, you will stop trying it, stop doing it or stop learning it. It is important for us to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and to get off autopilot.
Being on autopilot is not good for our brain health. If you like to cook, try new recipes instead of always making the same ones that you know. If you like to play cards, learn a new game and teach your friends. If you craft, try a new medium, a new pattern, etc. When was the last time you checked out a museum or art show? You can travel to the next town over and check out their local favorites.
Invest in your physical and cognitive health. The recommended goal for aerobic exercise by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 150 minutes each week. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways: gardening, walking, or any other way you choose to get your heart rate elevated. Also, think about ways to challenge your brain with newness, novelty and increasing difficulty. If you like doing an activity and it gets too easy, increase the difficulty. Brain health is not only a concern for those as they age. Brain health, like physical health, is something that we invest in across our lifespan.