Build A Better Brain in 30 Days

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In truth, many of us aren’t sure what “brain health” means exactly, or what we have to do to achieve better brain health. Do we need to do more to keep our brains busy? Should we take up a new language, or start doing the daily crossword? What really makes the difference when it comes to staying sharp and lowering our risk for a memory disorder down the road?

Some of the research on brain health can be a bit surprising: For example, did you know that having a sense of purpose has been associated with a reduced dementia risk? Other findings support good old-fashioned medical advice that is familiar to us all. In fact, chances are you have already started on the path to better brain health without even knowing it.

At its most basic, brain health refers literally to the physiological health of the brain as an organ. However, most of us also use the term to include the ways in which that underlying physical state is expressed. We see our brain’s health reflected in how we function day to day, including how well we are able to attend, learn, and remember.

In addition, our brain health impacts our ability to stay vital and independent, especially as we age. Finally, the term brain health is often used to denote something about our risk for dementia, and what we can do to manage, to the degree that we can, that risk. These aspects of brain health are in great part expressions of each other. One would be quite challenged to stay self-reliant and pursue passions in later life without well-preserved intellectual function. Yet it is important that we appreciate all these facets of brain health to fully understand its meaning.

We have made remarkable strides in understanding how the brain works and what it needs to stay healthy. But putting these discoveries to work means more than simply doing crossword puzzles or playing chess. I arrived at the “total brain health” model as a way of turning this complex new science into a practical blueprint for enhancing brain fitness. This 30-day approach improves mental acuity and helps maintain cognitive vitality by addressing all of the ways our overall health influences brain fitness.

Here are the first five days of the 30-day program.

Day 1: Get physical.

Start today on the road to better brain health by boosting your exercise time. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise several days a week.

Day 2: Play online.

Research has shown that we can better maintain such intellectual skills as attention, speed, executive control, and memory — all of which can change as we age — by giving them a good workout. One of the best ways to keep these skills challenged is by playing games against the clock, since timed activities force us to focus, think fast, and be nimble in our approach.

Day 3: Tap a tune.

Make up a little tune by tapping your fingers on your table or desktop. Your tune can be short or long, simple or complex, though I would suggest going for more than just one note. Tapping a tune will challenge your brain to think about the world in a slightly different way, and get you to coordinate your movement, auditory, and memory skills.

Day 4: Learn about memory loss.

Take a few minutes and find some answers to your own questions about memory. The Alzheimer’s Association has great general information about memory health, but its website actually covers everything from memory changes that can come with age to early symptoms to look for, as well as the hows and whys of evaluation for memory loss.

Day 5: Do a word search.

Take the words below and see how many other words you can come up with, using the letters of the original word.

RESOLUTION • SUFFICIENT • BENEFICENCE • SYNAPSE • PROPAGATION

Want to up the challenge? Limit yourself to two minutes per word.

Dr. Cynthia R. Green is the author of “Total Memory Workout: 8 Easy Steps to Maximum Memory Fitness” and “30 Days to Total Brain Health.”

This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s Spring 2012 issue.

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