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Brain Food And Exercise

Updated on September 23, 2015
MeredithCummings profile image

I am a Webmaster of 15 years and also a Field Investigator. I recently started started as Author for Hub Pages quite recently.

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Brain Game Workouts

Like your muscles, your brain needs regular workouts to stay healthy and fit as you age. Why? Just as we lose some muscle as we get older, our brains can atrophy, too. More specifically, your brain's "cognitive reserve"- or its ability to withstand neurological damage due to aging and other factors without showing visible signs of slowing or memory loss - diminishes through the years. That can make it more difficult to perform mental tasks.

For stress man­age­ment: a 5-minute visu­al­iza­tion, com­bin­ing deep and reg­u­lar breath­ings with see­ing in our mind's eye beau­ti­ful land­scapes and/ or remem­ber­ing times in our past when we have been suc­cess­ful at a tough task.

For short-term mem­ory: try a series sub­tract­ing 7 from 200 (200 193 186 179...), or a series involv­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion (2,3 4,6 6,9 8,12...) or expo­nen­tial series (2 4 8 16 32 64...) the goal is not to be a math genius, sim­ply to train and improve our short-term mem­ory. Another way is to try and remem­ber our friends tele­phone numbers.

In gen­eral, try some­thing dif­fer­ent every day, no mat­ter how lit­tle. Take a dif­fer­ent route to work. Talk to a dif­fer­ent col­league. Ask an unex­pected ques­tion. Approach every day as a liv­ing exper­i­ment, a learn­ing oppor­tu­nity.

"I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment," says John J.Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User's Guide to the Brain. "Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being."

A study by neuroscientists at Brown University provided further evidence that learning uses long-term potentiationLTP to produce changes in the synaptic connections between brain cells that are necessary to acquire and store new information.

When the researchers taught rats a new motor skill, scientists found that the animals' brains had also changed. The strength of synapses between neurons in the motor cortex of their brains had increased through a process consistent with the use of LTP.

Previously, "the link between LTP, synaptic modification and learning was tentative," said senior author JohnDonoghue, professor of neuroscience. "This latest study provides strong evidence that learning itself engages LTP in the cerebral cortex as a way to strengthen synaptic connections.

Food For Thought

The brain is a hungry organ, its cells require two times the amount of energy than that of other cells in the body. To work well and efficiently throughout the day, this energy level must be kept high enough so not to cause mental stress and exhaustion. With that said, diet plays an important role in our energy levels. Good nutrition, or brain food, can give us energy and help us live longer, more satisfying lifestyles. The brain functions at its best with roughly 25 g of glucose flowing in the blood stream (one banana). By eating frequently and not over- or under-indulging, brain power is optimized.

Increase Energy Levels

Outlined below examples of common healthy brain food:

Avocados- Don't let the avocado's fat content fool you. It's a healthy fat that promotes blood flow, keeping your mind functioning at its peak. That's not all: Avocados have also been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Bananas- "One study found that women who increased their folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 intake showed an improvement in recalling information compared to women who were not taking a supplement." Plus, it's a great excuse to load up on some carbs! According to the University of Texas. A banana is a healthy alternative to processed foods, and it is 99.5 percent fat free. Eating a banana helps the brain to function at its best. Bananas release energy slowly, and this helps the brain to stay alert.

Blueberries- Eating this tasty, low-glycemic superfood every day was found by the USDA and Tufts University to slow and even REVERSE age-related brain decline, as well as improve short-term memory loss and help reverse age-related loss of balance.

Broccoli- Broccoli has been shown to improve memory function as well as slow the aging process. This means a broccoli-rich diet will keep you young and sharp.

Carrot juice- Raw carrot juice is perhaps the best overall therapeutic food in the world; it alkalizes, cleanses, nourishes and stimulates almost every system in the body.

Cranberries-Cranberries are so powerful in preserving brain function, researchers recently found, that by t heir antioxidant action they can reduce the severity of brain impairment following strokes. They protect against the brain cell damage that usually occurs in the early stages after a stroke. Exposure to a concentration of cranberry extract equivalent to about half a cup of whole cranberries resulted in a 50% reduction in brain cell death.

Coffee- Regular coffee consumption has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline and diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer's, and has also recently been found to be (shockingly) the "#1 source of antioxidants in the average American diet"

Eggs-Egg yolks are rich in choline, an essential nutrient to improving memory function. Eggs contain protein and fat to provide energy to your brain for hours, and the selenium in organic eggs is proven to help your mood.

Flax Seeds- Flax seeds are crammed with ALA- a healthy fat that aids the cerebral cortex in functioning better. This is the portion of the brain responsible for processing sensory information. Keeping it sharp is vital.

Green Tea- Perhaps best known as the traditional, ceremonial drink tightly interwoven with the Buddhist ceremonies and tradition, Matcha's unique effects on the brain were a perfect fit for those monks in Japan preparing to endure 12-hour straight meditation sessions.

Lentils- These tiny flying-saucer shaped beans provide iron, a mineral important for learning. Iron helps form myelin - necessary for quick information processing in the wrinkled outer layer of the brain called the cortex. Iron also helps form healthy red blood cells that deliver oxygen to the brain. Lastly, iron is used to form dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is a key player in learning, mood and behavior.

Mixed nuts-Peanuts, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts contain properties that help with everything from fighting insomnia to promoting mental clarity and strong memory. Walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids while almonds contain natural mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.

Oatmeal- Oatmeal provides glucose, or blood sugar, which is your brain's basic fuel. That's why kids who eat a good breakfast perform better in school than those who don't, for example, notes National Public Radio. Since oatmeal is low on the glycemic index it provides a slow and steady rise in blood sugar that is long-lasting, which leads to several hours of sustained brain power.

Oranges-Magnesium in oranges helps maintains blood pressure. The potassium content in oranges keeps the cardiovascular system healthy and balances the electrolyte in cells. Oranges have thiamine which helps convert food into energy. It also has Vitamin B6 which supports production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to all parts of the body.

Peas- The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Included in these phytonutrients are some recently-discovered green pea phytonutrients called saponins.

Peanut Butter- Peanut butter is a terrific "brain food"? It's a rich source of vitamin E, an antioxident. Antioxidents protect cells from potentially harmful substances you encounter every day in your environment or the food you eat. Peanut butter also contains thiamin (vitamin B1), which helps metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your brain uses carbs for fuel, so eat more peanut butter and get smarter.

Purple Grapes- Purple grapes contain the phytonutrient resveratol, known for its helpful effects on cirulation. While resveratol is concentrated in red wine, you can still get plenty by munching purple grapes. Grapes help prevent circulatory problems that contribute to dementia by decreasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients. The benefits? Grapes help keep blood vessels healthy by preventing blockages - they raise good cholesterol (HDL)and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

Romaine Lettuce-You may not consider your brain health when you dig into a leafy green salad, but eating lettuce may benefit the most important part of your body. Lettuce contains specific nutrients that boost the function of your brain so it is able to send messages to the rest of your body more efficiently. The salad you eat today may protect your brain long into the future as well.

Sesame Butter- sesame butter (tahini) for a healthy brain treat. Sesame seeds contain zinc, a mineral important in learning, memory and brain development. Zinc is also part of the brain's defense system, because it promotes immune health and drives enzymes that keep a healthy balance of trace metals in the brain.

Soy Beans- Soybeans contains carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals like calcium, folic acid and iron. The protein in Soybean has high lecithin content and is therefore excellent for mental fatigue and for protection against cholesterol deposits. Lecithin is a brain food, a tonic and energizer.

Spinach- Raw spinach is another good source of organic vitamin A for the optic system; also builds strong blood due to rich supplies of organic iron, and this enhances circulation of oxygenated blood to the eyes.

Sweet Potatoes- Sweet potatoes are loaded with carotenoids, giving them a rich orange color. Carotenoids are important for the brain because they act as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. Carotenoids also help form vitamin A, which is important in helping to sprout new neurons and to help neurons find each other to form new connections.

Red Apples- Amazing recent research in 2005 and 2006 at Cornell University and Agri-Food Canada in Ontario showed that a group of chemicals called phenolics, particularly high in Red Delicious and Northern Spy apples as well as their juices, helps protect the brain from the type of damage that triggers such degenerative brain diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, in addition to reducing the risk of prostate, colon and lung cancer.

Wild Salmon - One of the best sources of Essential Fatty Acids (such as the all-important Omega-3), a rich source of high-quality non-land animal protein, low saturated fat, generally among the lowest amounts of contaminants (such as mercury) among seafood, and other health properties -- wild salmon can help do everything from improve your brain matter, your mood, your synaptic connections, your arteries, reduce your risk of stroke and Dementia and Alzheimer's and much more.

Whole grains- From oatmeal to whole grain bread, whole grains are excellent brain foods as they improve circulation and contain essential fibers, vitamins, and even some Omega-3. Just make your sandwiches from whole grain breads to enjoy the benefits. "One study found that women who increased their folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 intake showed an improvement in recalling information compared to women who were not taking a supplement." Plus, it's a great excuse to load up on some carbs!

Yogart- Yogart contains tyrosine, an amino acid needed for making dopamine, noradrenaline and other brain chemicals. Tyrosine levels are reduced under stress and increasing tyrosine intake can improve alertness and memory. Why not add some berries to your youghurt snack to boost the effect.

© 2015 Meredith Lee Cummings


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