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4 surprisingly easy ways to work out the brain
Go for a walk
Seriously. That’s it. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain (which means it gets more nutrients) and has been linked to the growth of new neurons, says Dr. Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at brain research centre Baycrest Health Sciences. “The best news is that almost all of these research findings come from walking studies,” she says. The moral: “Any activity that gets your heart pumping should be beneficial – you don’t have to run marathons or climb Mount Everest.”
Join a book club. Or a fundraising committee. Or travel.
You don’t have to play Sudoku 24/7 to boost your brain power. “Any mental activity that is challenging for you will be beneficial, particularly if it is a somewhat novel activity for you,” says Anderson. The caveat? “One limitation of how our brains work is that whatever you work at, you will get better at that activity, but it will not necessarily help all of your cognitive functioning. For example, if you do crossword puzzles, that will improve your word-finding abilities, but it won’t do anything for your spatial skills or your ability to remember new facts. That is why it is important to challenge yourself mentally in multiple ways. Engage in some verbal activities like joining a book club; engage in some spatial activities like exploring new areas of your city or travelling; engage in some planning activities like volunteering in a fundraising campaign. Give yourself a whole-brain workout through your work and leisure activities.”
Go to sleep.
“Our brains are not at rest when we sleep, quite the contrary. There is good evidence that long-term consolidation of memories occurs during sleep. There are also newer discoveries that during sleep we clear amyloid – the poisonous protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep deprivation is associated with difficulty with attention, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making,” says Anderson.
Easier said than done, we know. But, “stress and depression raise levels of cortisol in the body, including in the brain, and it too is toxic, especially to regions that mediate memory and executive functioning,” says Anderson.