As part of Mental Health Awareness Week taking place from the 8-14 May, Bolt Burdon Kemp are looking at various ways to keep the brain as healthy as possible. Keeping the brain in good condition can help reduce the impact of, and may even prevent, degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
They have consulted various experts in brain injury and rehabilitation to discover six main habits you can adopt to get your brain into optimal condition:
- Switch to a Mediterranean diet
Reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline with a low-sodium Mediterranean diet. The diet consists of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts, beans, cereal grains, red wine and dark chocolate. Judy Rocher, a registered nutritional therapist and naturopath at the London Clinic of Nutrition, commends the diet as it “provides a high level of phytonutrients and antioxidants”.
Rocher also recommends healthy fats that can prevent deterioration of the brain and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. This includes coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, and lecithin found in egg yolks, liver, soya beans and hemp seeds.
- Listen to music and get creative
“Playing music is the best form of exercise for our brains,” says Elizabeth Nightingale, a neurologic music therapist at Chiltern Music Therapy. “If one part of our brain is damaged or impaired, music can still reach multiple other areas, helping to stimulate the brain and keep it as healthy and as active as possible.”
If you can’t play, listening to music can also help. Bernice Chu, music therapist at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN), says, “Music is processed in more than one area of the brain. For a healthy individual, it encourages us to move, to relax, to feel emotion and to use our voice. Activating different areas of the brain keep it healthy.” Chu also says the idea that classical music is most effective for brain health is really a myth – any kind of music will do.
If you enjoy being creative, painting, crafts, drama and dancing are also great options. Art therapist Themis Kyriakidou highlights the therapeutic aspect of art making which “helps us to analyse feelings and our subconscious” as well as “help reduce anxiety and stress by allowing [us] to express [ourselves], producing a calming effect and a safe space – effectively a breather from one’s own thoughts.”
- Do some physical activity
A study on exercise and the brain revealed that, “Exercise […] appears to have a broad rejuvenating effect on the brain”. Gentle physical activity such as yoga can also help traumatic brain injury (TBI) sufferers such as Amy Zellmer.
Amy’s cognitive functions improved steadily after starting yoga. She said, “I was able to breathe deeper than I had since the accident, my flexibility was coming back (slowly), and my dizziness and balance issues were starting to bother me less. My range of motion was growing.”
- Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) combines meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises. The combination can help lower levels of anxiety and decrease negative emotions and negative self-belief, leaving you more able to cope with the stresses of life.
- Find a Purpose in Life (PIL)
Finding a purpose in life can mean you are 30% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. PIL involves believing your life has meaning and purpose, maintaining a personal belief system and thinking positively about the future.
- Build meaningful relationships
A socially-enriched environment can bring multiple health benefits, including reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s. Brain injury rehabilitation expert Christine Lefaivre says, “The positive impact of stability, love and support of a healthy family cannot be valued highly enough.”