Facts for Families

Facts for Families

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Are You Taking Care of Your Brain?

By Cheri Burcham, Family Life Educator

We just celebrated Brain Awareness Week (March 12 – 18). Here is a recap of the lifestyle contributors to having a healthier brain. These are things you can work on throughout life and it is never too early or late to start. Maintaining a healthy brain is important for long-term brain health. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits not only contributes to your physical well-being, but also is also good for your brain! Health brains benefit from:

Quality Sleep

The importance of enough and good sleep for a healthy brain cannot be understated! Sleep affects both mental and physical health, helps you focus better, and even solidifies memories. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.

Heart Healthy Diet

Adopting a heart healthy diet not only benefits your heart, but also your brain. Food influences energy levels, mood, memory, and more and more studies are demonstrating the importance of certain nutrients for brain health. A diet including lean meat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and limited sodium and sugar are beneficial. Staying hydrated is also important, so ensure that you are drinking enough water on a daily basis.

Regular Exercise

Researchers are consistently reporting that what is good for our bodies is also good for our brains. As we age, our brains, much like our bodies, tend to slow down – including slower reaction times, increased difficulty learning new information, as well as problems with multi-tasking. Regular aerobic activity can improve your reaction time, provide better concentration, and increase your ability to focus on tasks. Aim to be aerobically active 30 minutes or more three times a week and have fun with it! Gardening, biking, swimming, or simply walking are excellent activities to get you moving!

Stress Management

While we cannot escape the stressors that come with life, stress is bad for your body AND your mind! While it may not be possible to eliminate stress from your life, it is possible to reduce the harmful effects and train your brain to handle stress more effectively. Regularly engaging in activities that you find relaxing is key. Practicing mindfulness techniques, listening to music, laughing regularly – including adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help you reduce the impact of stress on your brain!

Social and Emotional Support

Connecting with others and having emotional support enhances the function of your brain. Research has shown that both formal and informal interactions with others can stimulate and exercise the brain as much as doing puzzles. Socializing, having conversations, laughing and sharing is mentally beneficial. Maintaining social ties through participation in social activities like card playing, traveling, volunteering, or taking a class are ways to stay socially connected. Even activities like going to the movies with friends, attending church or social/civic clubs, or even going out to dinner can help you stay engaged with others and are good examples of brain exercise.

Challenging Activities

Challenging your brain with newness, novelty, and increasing difficulty is one of several things you can do to contribute to your own brain health. Brain exercise is more than just paper/pencil activities like crosswords, Sudoku, or find-a-word puzzles. Anytime you are learning something new like a new language, a dance move, or playing an instrument your brain gets a workout! Pick intellectually challenging activities that are of interest to you to increase the likelihood that you will stay with it. Once you have become very good at a chosen activity, take it up a notch to make it more challenging. As an example, if you are an excellent knitter and can make a blanket in no time at all, try learning a new stitch or pattern or making something more difficult like a sweater.

This article was written by Chelsey Byers Gerstenecker and can be found on our Family Files Blog at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb380/entry_13230

For more information on this topic or other family life-related topics, contact Cheri Burcham at University of Illinois Extension at 217-543-3755 or at cburcham@illinois.edu For more information on University of Illinois Unit 19 programming and to read more helpful articles, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at (217)345-7034. Also visit the Family Files Blog at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb380/

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