MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has been in the midst of stressful circumstances for more than a year now, and a doctor emphasized the importance of brain health during a recent Herbalife eWelness Tour 2021.
During the event, they encouraged people to have healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices to keep their minds healthy and to age gracefully.
“When people think about mind health or brain health, they tend to focus on memory but they know it is more than strong memory,” said Gary Small, a Behavioral Health physician and chairperson of Psychiatry.
He said that there is a risk that people inherit unhealthy aging from their parents, but the non-genetic factors:
- physical conditioning,
- mental stimulation,
- stress management
- and nutrition
play more important roles on how long and how well they live.
According to BrainFacts.org, brains age just like the body and brain function begins to decline at about the age of 30.
“It is not all bad, there’s an upside – some aspects of intelligence improve and actually we worry less, we have less anger, and we are less stressed out,” Small said. “You know there is a sense that you have been through problems before, and now you know how to solve them so you’re not as upset.”
Formula for successful brain fitness
Through exercise, the blood flows to the brain, and the body produces chemicals that get your brain cells to communicate more effectively. It also produces endorphins, which helps in lifting your mood.
Small said that any exercise helps support the brain, as he shared the findings of a five-year study in Asia about 61,000 men who were doing Tai Chi, a slow-moving exercise. It increased the size of their brains and cognitive abilities, and it improved their balance and moods.
“A simple way to improve memory is to just take a walk with a friend, because studies have shown that just a 10-minute conversation can increase your mental abilities, so you’re walking and talking – that is physical and brain exercise,” he said.
For Small, walking with a friend is a “triple threat” against aging, because it allows the oxygen and nutrients to pass to the brain, while improving physical and cardiovascular conditions.
“We can actually train a person’s memory skills – they have experienced benefits over many years that they have used them,” Small said.
Playing memory games, solving puzzles, Internet search and 10-minute conversations are some of the activities that can help improve short-term memory, reasoning and multitasking skills.
He presented his improved memory methods that are called “Look, Snap, Connect," an exercise for attention.
• Look – “We got to look and focus our attention.”
• Snap – “is the ability to create a mental snapshot or picture in our brains, and that leverages the brain’s natural ability to recall things virtually.”
• Connect – “We connect those mental snapshots so they have meaning.”
“If you can make things meaningful, they become memorable,” he said.
Studies on animals showed that chronic stress shrinks brain size and it causes temporary memory impairment.
Small said that relaxation exercises and meditation improve mood, memory and measures of immune response and life expectancy. It can also help with sleeping at night.
“When you remember or learn things during the day, if you get a good sleep that night, you are going to remember it better the next day,” he said.
The pandemic affects our overall health that is why it is important to have a good sleeping pattern, so Small shared some techniques for restful sleep:
• Plan enough time for sleep with a goal of eight hours
• Control bedroom noise
• Dim bright lights and remove blue light
• Set a comfortable environment and temperature
• Establish a relaxation ritual
• Pay attention to what you eat and drink before bedtime
He noted that a lot of liquids, especially those with caffeine, should be avoided before bedtime.
“Most people do not consume enough antioxidant fruits and vegetables and as we age, our brains and our bodies are threatened by oxidative stress,” Small said.
He emphasized the need for weight management portion control to protect the brain, because obesity increases the risk for memory loss.
• Consume: Beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, poultry, whole grains, and fish.
• Control: Butter, cheese, margarine, fast or fried foods, pastries and sweets.
Small shared that some studies showed eating spicy food trice a week is associated with greater life expectancy, and one glass of red wine a day improves memory. People just have to take them in moderation.
“When it comes to your health, you have more control than you may realize,” he affirmed.
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