Fitness for our brain

In order for our brain to remain efficient into our older years, we can do a lot. The following five practical tips can even stop the natural degeneration of our brain.

Stressed woman with headache at computer

1) Exercise, exercise, exercise

Physical activity stimulates the nervous system and increases brain performance. This has been documented by numerous studies. Particularly impressive is the study by German physician Wildor Hollmann, which was carried out many years ago at the Cologne Sports School on more than 1,200 60-year-old female and male volunteers. In the study, the first group intensively read a newspaper for 30 minutes every day and then reported on what they had read. The second group exercise for 30 minutes every day. The third control group did neither. After half a year, the memory performance of the three groups was tested. The memory performance of the control group decreased by four percent compared to the measurement six months previously. The "reading group" recorded an increase in memory performance of 20 percent compared to the previous period. However, the "sports group" really hit the ball out of the field: The memory performance of this group increased by as much as 40 percent over the same time period.

Endurance sports such as jogging or walking, cycling and swimming are particularly suitable. Through regular exercise, new nerve cells are formed into the older years, and above all, the networking and signal transmission between the cells is improved. The risk of Alzheimer's, dementia and stroke is also reduced by up to 25 percent when exercising.

2) Sufficient sleep restructures the brain

While we sleep, our brains are wide awake. It sorts out the day's experiences and stores important information. The brain needs seven to nine hours of sleep to do this. The quality of sleep is important. The most restful sleep is in a dark, not overheated room and without disturbing noises. Only in darkness does the brain produce the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep on the one hand, but also sets cell repair mechanisms into motion on the other hand. During sleep, the brain breaks down toxic metabolic products and other harmful substances. Constant sleep disturbances can be a health alert. For instance, violent movements or screams during sleep sometimes announce Parkinson's disease years in advance.

3) Thinking keeps the grey cells young

People who challenge their brains daily are less likely to develop dementia. The reason for this is the so-called cognitive reserve. This refers to the ability to regenerate and connect nerve cells. Good is everything that is fun and inspires people to think: Reading the newspaper, writing stories, making music, learning a foreign language, solving riddles, etc. Card or board games with the family or animated discussions with friends also activate the brain cells. The more varied the activities, the more effective the mental exercise. The best results are achieved with a combination of exercise and mental activity.

4) The right food for the brain

Good is all that keeps the vessels open, so that blood can flow freely. The brain can only work properly if it is sufficiently supplied with oxygen. Particularly those in advanced age should pay attention to a sufficient intake of antioxidants, which are mainly found in vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Also important are good oils and foods containing omega-3 fatty acid such as fish and certain seeds. Under certain circumstances it may even help to take dietary supplements. Among the minerals, special attention should be paid to the intake of sufficient amounts of magnesium. And do not forget to drink. Still water should be the preferred drink.

5) Avoid stress

Permanent stress -- private or professional -- not only worsens mental well-being, but also harms the brain. To put it bluntly, stress makes stupid. Blame it on the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol ensures that fewer new brain cells develop and at the same time it disrupts the signal transmission at the connecting points of the nerve cells. Relaxation exercises, short holidays and exercise, especially running, reduce stress and help to restore the brain to its healthy normal state.

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