Almost every part of our body follows the same mantra; use it or lose it. Just as it is important to exercise our heart for unclogging the arteries, it is essential to exercise our brain cells too. It may be difficult to gauge the health of our brain cells, and the impact of mental exercise, but we have to consciously keep building a better brain at all times.
Doctors advise that the first thing we should do is to avoid living on autopilot; which means that a routine, day after day, is not desirable. At work, we unfortunately follow a routine, which does not stimulate our hippocampus – the part of our brain responsible for memory. It is important to learn something new. It could be anything – learning a new language, engaging in a new hobby, or practicing a new instrument. The idea is to use parts of our brain that are normally dormant. We do have diverse interests, and so can opt for activities that will stretch our mind.
Many people think that the ideal way to stretch the mind is to take a vacation. Vacations are a good idea for relaxing the mind; not stretching it. But when we study maps, plan an itinerary, or study the subway system of a new city, we do exercise our visual-spatial skills – which contributies to the brain-building process. Just as there are aerobic exercises for the body, there are ‘neurobic’ exercises for the brain. Activities like solving puzzles, crosswords, and other brain teasers help in strengthening the neural pathways. A puzzle a day keeps dementia away!
Generally, food that is harmful for our heart is also harmful for our brain. Saturated fats, which clog coronary arteries, clog the brain arteries too – increasing the risk of a brain stroke. A brain healthy diet includes – omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, olive oil, and nuts. Dark colored fruit and vegetables—which contain more antioxidants—also help in protecting brain cells.
The most important element, of course, is education. The more we want to know, the more we stretch the brain’s capacity for learning. People with higher levels of education, and those who continue to be involved in activities that stimulate the mind, are mentally younger. The idea is to keep learning – keep testing and taxing the brain.