Brain Awareness Week (March 16th to March 22nd) is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. It is vitally important to spread understanding of brain research, but it is also crucial that we all know how to keep our brains healthy. Here are some simple tips from cognitive neuroscientist and chartered psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.
1. Challenge yourself: Whether it be facing your fears and holding a large spider or learning a new language just give it a try! Activities which are testing or complicated help towards having a healthy brain. Remember what is easy for one person may be challenging for another, so test a few things out to make sure you get a proper challenge.
2. Do something different: A normal routine drains our brains so it is important that we change things about. From exploring a beautiful museum to getting lost in the woods, it really can be big or small but encourage yourself to step away from the norm. See this as a perfect opportunity to do something you have always wanted to do.
3. Relax: Although it is important to challenge ourselves we must not forget to take time and unwind. Our brains require time to process information deeply, in order to gain more benefit from our daily experiences. It may sound obvious but relaxing reduces stress and the over-production of brain chemicals and hormones, like cortisol, that in large quantities can negatively affect parts of the brain.
4. Turn the music up: Watching too much TV can dull brain programming. Instead why not put on your favourite playlist and turn the music up! Research shows that music can lower stress hormones that impede memory and increase feelings of well-being.
5. Remodel your environment: It’s all too easy for our work and social environments to get cluttered up but more mess leads to more stress! Revamp your house by de-cluttering, this will lead to de-stressing and mental space for creativity and renewal.
6. Enjoy a lie-in: Research shows that when you’re persistently sleep-deprived, your body doesn’t have the time to build proteins, which can damage your brain. So go to bed early and once a week give yourself a treat and stay in bed an extra hour or so.
7. Use your weaker hand: When was the last time you tried to write with your weaker hand? Doing day-to-day activities with your ‘other’ hand can drive your brain to make positive changes as it requires the brain to pay close attention to a normally unconscious behaviour.
8. Get active: Regular exercise is essential for the brain. Take up a new sport whether it be yoga, swimming or kick-boxing. Exercise can improve our energy levels, sense of well-being, sleep, and brain health. It really does do wonders. Take a friend along to encourage you and so you can both make changes in your life.
9. Ditch the caffeine: Changing your drinking habits to include plenty of water will keep your brain healthy. Although a coffee or tea will help your immediate energy levels, too many can be harmful for your brain. Drink eight glasses of water a day if you can.
10. Have fun: Possibly the best advice anyone can give. Ensure that you spend enough happy time with friends and your family, as socialising provides opportunities to enable the sharing of experiences, challenges, emotions, trust, and understanding. Research shows that people with five or more regular social ties had half the risk of cognitive decline than those with no social ties.