New Year’s resolutions often include improving physical health through exercise. The benefits of physical activity are far-reaching, but did you know that cognitive workouts are equally important, especially during menopause? As we gear up for a new year, here’s why and how your brain should be included in a daily regimen to stay fit.
Menopause Effect on Cognition
Estrogen plays a complex role in brain functioning, including:
Neurotransmitter Regulation: Estrogen influences the activity of “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which impact mood and memory.
Synaptic Plasticity: Estrogen promotes synaptic plasticity, enabling the formation of new connections between neurons, crucial for learning and memory.
Neuroprotection: Estrogen has neuroprotective effects, supporting the health and survival of neurons in the brain and potentially preventing age-related cognitive decline.
Cerebral Blood Flow: Estrogen affects blood flow to the brain, influencing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, which is crucial for optimal cognitive function.
Hippocampal Function: Estrogen plays a role in maintaining the health and function of the hippocampus, a brain region essential for memory formation.
The abrupt decline in estrogen during menopause affects short-term and working memory. Commonly called ‘brain fog,’ it is estimated that two-thirds of women going through menopause will experience cognitive decline, which can include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and mental clarity.
Ways to Support Brain Health
There are simple ways to exercise your brain to improve memory, focus, and cognitive function. Incorporating these practices into your daily routine can improve overall brain health and well-being. Consider the following strategies:
- Engage in Mental Challenges: Brain exercises stimulate different parts of the brain, improving memory and problem-solving skills.
- Stay Physically Active: Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly to boost blood flow to the brain and enhance cognitive function.
- Prioritize Quality Sleep: Establish a consistent sleep routine for memory consolidation and overall cognitive performance.
- Maintain a Balanced Diet: Support brain health by eating nutrient-rich foods, including those high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. The Mediterranean Diet is an excellent example and even includes a few indulgences.
- Practice Stress Management: Prevent long-term damage caused by chronic stress with relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness moments.
- Socialize and Connect: Regular social interactions and meaningful relationships have been associated with better cognitive function and a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can impair cognitive function, affecting concentration and memory. Ensure you are adequately hydrated throughout the day.
Avoiding foods high in sugar, alcohol, and tobacco will also benefit the brain. In addition to a healthy lifestyle, brain exercises go a long way for cognitive health.
Brain Exercises for Growth
We often challenge our bodies at the gym with an aggressive cardiovascular workout. Here are exercises for your brain, and most of them can be fun:
- Puzzle Solving: Whether it’s a classic jigsaw, crossword, or a newer puzzle like Sudoku, puzzles enhance concentration and pattern recognition.
- Reading: Reading positively impacts the brain in multiple ways:
- Stimulates mental processes, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
- Expands vocabulary and comprehension with diverse words and expressions.
- Improves focus and attention, especially during long periods of reading.
- As a form of escapism, it can help reduce stress with a good story.
- Improves memory with characters, plots, and storylines.
- Increases brain plasticity and neural connections.
- Lifelong Learning: From foreign languages to a new instrument, online courses, or new hobbies, learning something new fosters neural connections and memory in the brain.
- Mind-Training Apps: Programs designed to enhance memory, attention, and problem-solving skills are easily accessible on your smartphone or tablet and offer a fun way to keep your brain sharp.
- Strategic Games: Classic games like chess, card games, or board games promote executive functions, requiring planning, foresight, and adaptability. Enjoy them socially for added benefits.
Consistency is the key to practical brain exercises. Incorporate various activities into your routine to keep your mind engaged and adaptable. By actively participating in mental workouts, you’ll stimulate cognitive function and enhance overall brain health. Here’s to a sharper, more alert new year.