The brain is a well-studied organ. With its whopping 100 billion neurons, 100,000 miles of blood vessels, and copious amounts of white and grey matter… the brain’s capabilities and complexities are quite literally mind-boggling!
What research does consistently reveal is that certain activities and practices can prove beneficial in helping us stay sharp. In the Part 1 of this four-part ‘Maintain Your Brain’ series, we looked at the benefits of such activities as exercise, music, games and learning, and in Part 2 we challenged you to vary your routines to improve cognitive health.
In this discussion we consider what research has to say about two other vital aspect of brain health – socializing and getting proper sleep.
Talk a Lot
Countless studies indicate that frequent social contact and rich, meaningful relationships are key aspects of good brain health. Specifically, a research team at Michigan University reported that: “The more socially engaged participants were, the lower their level of cognitive impairment and the better their working memory performance.”
It may sound like a simple enough prescription for young people who are constantly in situations that demand ‘chatter’, but for older folks, who may find themselves alone much of their day, socializing can be a tall order. Here are some tips to help boost your social scene:
- Schedule at least one phone chat per day with a friend or family member
- Join a church or community group
- Volunteer at an organization that has you interacting with people
- Make a point of engaging people during your daily activities – at the grocery store, mail box, doctor appointments, walk, etc.
Although the relationship between memory and sleep is not fully understood, most doctors and scientists agree that proper rest is an essential part of cognitive sharpness. The general recommendation for adults is seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Seniors may get less than this sometimes because they have difficulty falling asleep. A study by the University of California of adults over the age of 65 found that 13 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep. If sleep eludes you, here are some tips that might help you drift off and sleep better:
- Have a regular bedtime and wake time routine
- Exercise daily if you can (walking counts)
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed
- Make dinner a lighter meal or make it earlier in the day
- Avoid heavy, rich foods or snacks in the evening
- Read or listen to soothing music just before bed
- Sleep in a cool room (60-67°F / 15-19°C)
Ultimately, it’s a combination of many little things we can do to keep our minds sharp and our memories fresh. And if you think about it, it’s no surprise that things that are good for your brain… exercise, healthy food, hydration, proper rest, fun activities, social interaction… are also good for your heart and soul!
Want more on keeping your brain fit? Read our other Maintain Your Brain articles and stay tuned for Part 4 on the importance of Food and Water!