15 Signs of a Healthy Brain

15 Signs of a Healthy Brain
Image: Twenty20

15 Signs of a Healthy Brain

There's nothing scarier than the idea that our brains may not be in top shape. As our population ages, the country's attention has been increasingly turning to issues relating to old age. One of the top concerns among an aging population are issues relating to dementia and Alzheimer's. We may be concerned for loved ones' brain health, like our parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents as they get older, but we should also be aware of our own brain health as we get older and further away from long days of rigorous mental training. (School was good for something after all -- all that memorization of periodic tables and language classes were great for our brain health!) Being aware of signs of brain health -- as well as signs our brains may not be in tip-top shape -- is always a good idea. 

Fortunately, we can exercise our brains and get them back in shape, even if we haven't been using them too rigorously in recent years. Games like crosswords and Sudoku puzzles can help improve brain health, as can language classes -- it's never too late to get good at another language! Even memorizing poems and song lyrics may help. For more healthy ways to keep our brains on track, check out some ways to keep your mind sharp, which may also help in coming up with super-thoughtful birthday and holiday presents for a parent we're concerned about. To help the brain stay in shape, everything from a gym membership to a seafood-of-the-month club -- yes, they exist -- can be a good idea. And while it's not a great reason to go out and get pregnant, it's heartening to know science says having a baby after age 35 is good for your brain. It makes sense, because having kids is a challenge for all parts of our bodies -- why should the brain be an exception? That said, 'pregnancy brain' is real. These may seem contradictory, but it's really not -- fascinating stuff!

  • Learning New Things Comes Easily

    You Learn New Things

    Declining brain health is one of the scarier aspects of aging. It leaves people who are otherwise healthy dependent, confused, and often prone to injury. So, it's important to take care of our brains as well as we care for the rest of our body. It's never too early to start. For example, if we train our brain to learn new things, it lowers our risk for certain mental decline.

  • Letting Things Go

    You Can Let Things Go

    Repetitive thoughts and rumination, especially around negative things, can wear on the mind. It's also a sign of possible depression or anxiety. If we can have negative experiences without going over the scenario, what we said, what it all meant again and again, it's a sign of a healthy brain.

  • Having a Calm Mind

    You Have a Calm Mind
    Brains awash in stress hormones degrade over time. If we're able to find calm through daily meditation, mindfulness, yoga, healthy relationships, and a low-stress life, we're likely to have a healthy brain -- just another reason to invest in some good self-care. 
  • Sleeping Well

    You Sleep Well

    Good, regular, deep sleep is the healthiest thing we can do for our brain. It improves memory, lowers stress, and gives the old noggin solid time to reset and piece together information and memories from the day. A well-rested brain is a healthy brain. If we're not feeling fatigued, it's a sign that our brain may be doing just fine.

  • Emotions Are Under Control

    Your Emotions Are Under Control

    If we're able to keep our emotions under control, without huge blow-ups or breakdowns, we've likely got a healthy brain that isn't awash in stress hormones, causing us to snap. For those who feel overly stressed and who easily snap, consider seeking therapy and engaging in healthy behaviors like yoga and meditation. 

  • Strong Balance

    You Have Strong Balance

    Strong balance takes mental fitness. If we're rocking the yoga poses, do fine in heels, or otherwise don't tip off-kilter when going about our day, that's a sign that our brain is in pretty good shape, too -- bodies and minds are connected, after all.

  • Having a Strong Memory

    You Have a Strong Memory

    We all forget where we put the keys once in awhile, and some of us aren't ever going to easily remember the names of the people we meet. But having a reliable memory, both long- and short-term, are great signs of a healthy brain. Working to improve memory doesn't hurt in maintaining this aspect of brain fitness.

  • Feeling Young

    You Feel Young

    "Age is a state of mind." We hear it all the time, and there might be some science behind that pithy feel-good saying. A recent study found that subjects who reported feeling younger than their actual age had more gray matter in critical brain regions.

  • Making Decisions Easily

    You Make Decisions Easily

    Making a decision is a complex mental function. Those who are good at decision-making might be demonstrating that their brains are healthy and functioning well. Decision-making skills can also be developed in those who feel paralyzed by choice, however. 

  • Having Good Gut Health

    You Have Good Gut Health

    The brain and gut are closely connected, increasing numbers of studies have found. And good gut health contributes to good brain health. If things are OK in our gut, there's an increased chance they're OK upstairs, too.

  • Having a Strong Grip

    You Have a Strong Grip

    Having a strong grip -- whether young or old, man or woman -- is a sign of a healthy brain. Studies found that those with stronger grips are less likely to develop brain-related diseases, such as dementia and stroke.

  • Being a Fast Walker

    You're a Fast Walker

    Studies have also found that people who walk faster have better memories and larger brains. Even just a daily 10-minute walk can improve the brain. Those who are already able to walk fast have an advantage.

  • Eating Well

    You Eat Well

    People who eat well -- choosing fresh, nutrient-dense foods over sugar and carbs -- are likely to have healthier brains than those who subsist on junk. Eating good food, like sleeping, is necessary for good health. And doing both is a great way to improve brain function.

  • Having a Fit Body

    You Have a Fit Body

    People who are fit and carry a moderate amount of body fat are likely to have healthier brains. Studies have found that obesity increases the risk of brain shrinkage. Researchers aren't sure why there might be a connection, but getting fit could improve brain health.

  • Having Good Friends

    You Have Good Friends

    Friends keep brains healthy. Connecting with people we care about -- but aren't responsible for -- boosts oxytocin, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone), and that's good for our brain. If we spend regular, quality time with friends, we're getting this mood boost. That contributes to a healthy brain.

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