You may have a gym membership or invest in your physical health in other ways, but the chances are you leave your brain to fend for itself, trusting it will just do its job. What do you think is more important, your physical health or your mental health?

If you take care of your brain, it tends to work better on all levels. By investing in your brain fitness, you will improve your cognitive performance, your learning capability, and your long-term mental health.
The five keys to improving brain fitness, are stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep and experience, and are best remembered by the word ‘SENSE’.

Stress: Stress leads to poor decision-making, and adversely affects your capacity to think rationally. Managing your stress, and in particular, regulating your physiology are essential to maintaining your mental performance and decision making under pressure.

  • Make time for relaxation. Try meditating for 10-20 minutes every morning.

Exercise: As you exercise, your heart rate increases, your circulation improves and more oxygen and glucose flow to your brain, enabling it to work better. Exercise also helps prevent dementia. This is because physical exercise increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a significant role in learning.

  • Do 20 minutes of moderate exercise every day, and 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week.

Nutrition: The most commonly cited recommendation from research on brain health and nutrition is to follow a Mediterranean diet. A study of more than 2,000 residents of New York City, averaging 76 years of age, found that those eating a Mediterranean diet had a 68% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Your brain also works better when it’s well hydrated.

  • Drink half a liter of water when you wake up, and another one-to-two liters of water throughout the day. Eat a Mediterranean-style diet and consume less sugar.

Sleep: It’s tempting to sacrifice sleep to give us more time, but scarifying sleep to get more done is a fallacy. You may have more time to work but you’ll have cognitive competence with which to do it. Insufficient sleep is correlated with impaired logical reasoning, decision making, memory, attention, and reaction times. Sleep debt is also found to be cumulative; if you sleep for less than six hours a night for five nights in a row, you can expect your cognitive performance to drop to that of a person who hasn’t slept for 48 hours.

  • Get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. To sleep better, lower your cortisol levels using meditation or relaxation exercises, reduce blue light exposure two hours before bed. If it’s your mind that keeps you up, empty it regularly.

Experience: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” asserted Henry Ford, the US industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company. There is a neurological truth in this. If you continue to learn and challenge your brain, it strengthens, grows, and remains younger for longer. So to keep your brain in shape you need to nourish it with learning and novelty.

  • Learn a new language or a musical instrument, seek the unfamiliar, and keep an active social life.

Summary

  • The 5 keys to improving your brain fitness are stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and experience (S.E.N.S.E.)
  • Based on your behaviour and experience over the past week, rate yourself out of 10 for each.
  • Then think about ways you could improve your score next week.