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New Year, New You: Resolve to be Good to Your Brain This Year

We all know some basic steps we can take to make our bodies healthier to keep those "get fit" New Year's resolutions, but what can you do to make your brain healthier?

An estimated 40 to 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.  Most of us resolve to become physically fit, fiscally fit, re-organized, re-energized, or overall healthier, but in that quest we often forget one of the most important aspects of complete health—mental fitness and strength.  If you don’t think you need a brain boost because you’re feeling young and fit and mentally strong, you may want to think again.  A University of Virginia study shows that the average person’s brain peaks at age 22!  Even so, the brain has the ability to grow and change at any age, and there are proven ways to get your brain in tip-top shape, and in some cases, make it better than ever.  The key is quality in a few key areas: nutrition, sleep, social life, and both mental and physical exercise.

Nutrition

When it comes to brain-boosting foods, it seems research uncovers a new super food every other day Over time it’s become clear that a few key types of foods are necessary for optimum mental functioning.

Vitamin B-1 is one of the most important trace elements because it enables the metabolism of glucose.  Other crucial trace elements include potassium, sodium and calcium, which are used for nerve cell signaling and metabolic reactions, and zinc, which is important for concentration and memory.

Iron is essential for supplying oxygen to the brain.  In one study, women with sufficient iron in their blood performed cognitive exercises better and faster than women who were iron-deficient.  After iron supplementation, the formerly anemic women did five to seven times better on their cognitive performance.

Unsaturated fats are an important part of a brain-healthy diet, too, as they protect the brain and support brain function, especially the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.  Protein heightens attention and produces structural materials and transporters for the brain.

Water, of course, is vital for brain function as well.  Studies show that even slight dehydration slows the rate at which nutrients can enter the brain, producing short-term memory deficits, reasoning difficulties and other cognitive problems.

Keeping our brains optimally powered is also dependent on when we eat.  The brain can’t store carbohydrates like muscles can, so it requires a constant supply of glucose.  Eating regularly ensures blood glucose levels don’t dip or surge causing concentration issue and other mental lapses.  Eating breakfast is especially important.  In fact, results from 22 studies of school-age kids show that those who eat breakfast have better memories, test scores, and school attendance rates.

Sleep

Sleep plays a vital part in a healthy brain, too.  It supports your cognitive abilities and brain function by supporting your brain’s ability to quickly process new information and concepts and to organize, store and recall memories.

Social Activity

Healthy friendships also prove healthy for your brain.  Research from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center shows that having close friends and staying in contact with family can fortify the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.  Other studies also show people with extensive social networks to be at reduced risk of cognitive impairment.

Exercise

Perhaps the most important aspect of resolving to have your best brain this year is vowing to exercise it often.  Puzzles, riddles, games and other mental exercises that keep the mind active and challenged can prevent cognitive decline, and the right type of intense brain training exercises can actually make you smarter.

LearningRx, located locally in Buckhead, Alpharetta and Kennesaw, specializes in this type of intense brain training.  Personal trainers use fast-paced, game-like exercises to quickly improve cognitive skills like attention, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory and visual processing, and processing speed.  A recent study showed adults who went through LearningRx brain training improved brain function and gained an average of 11.4 IQ points.  While at-home mental exercise programs are generally not intense enough to produce that type of gain, if you push your brain with tough mental challenges, it can make a difference.

Physical exercise is also extremely beneficial to mental function.  The immediate effects are obvious – it gets the oxygen flowing to the brain.  The long-term effects, though, are more impressive.  Sever studies show that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer memory problems, and some animal studies even suggest that physical exercise can prompt the growth of new stem cells.

So as you ponder your New Year’s resolutions, remember your brain, and resolve to treat it well.  The brain’s amazing ability to grow and change throughout life means that instead of growing old, the brain can simply grow – if we continue to challenge it through training and exercise, and nurture it with quality nutrition, sleep, friendship, and exercise.

To see more great brain research, “like” LearningRx Alpharetta-Johns Creek or LearningRx Atlanta-Buckhead on Facebook.  To find the brain training center nearest to you, or to learn more about cognitive training, go to www.learningrx.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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