Forget-Me-Not – Navigating Your Brain Health

A study of 2,000 adults found they forget something on average three times a day, including why they entered a room, what they were about to say and other people’s names

Brain Health

While some don’t remember to take food out of the freezer to defrost for dinner or, what they went to the supermarket to buy. Another 15 per cent of absent-minded respondents will make a hot cup of tea – then totally forget to drink it.

And more than a tenth (11 per cent) blame the lockdowns for adding to their memory woes due to lack of brain stimulation. A third (32 per cent) blame simply getting older on their dwindling memory, while the same amount believes they simply have too much on their plate to keep track of it all.

Professor Hana Burianova, a Cognitive Neuroscientist working with supplement brand Healthspan, which commissioned the report, said: “Our brains overload when we have lots of different things going on and this impacts our memory.

Professor Burianova continues, “Our brain ageing actually begins as early as our twenties and generally people don’t think about brain health until they hit their forties at the earliest. Our brain is complex, it works synergistically together so incorporating brain-health habits as early as possible will impact on long-term brain health outcomes and improve memory and cognition.”

Exactly one in four believe stress causes them to forget things and a third say that lack of memory has impacted on their confidence and even the ability to do everyday tasks and therefore impacted on their health.

Memory is affected by ageing, lack of sleep, menopause, and stress and diet also plays a pivotal role in supporting brain health.

Evidence is beginning to shape our understanding of how specific foods are linked to brain health.” Says Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition. “Research is also beginning to highlight the fact that sticking to the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved cognition.

“‘Smart pill’s such as nootropics which contain a combination or ‘stack’ of ingredients known to enhance brain function are popular such as Healthspan’s’ Love Your Brain’ (28 day supply, £19.95 at Healthspan and Superdrug stores) which has been specifically formulated to support brain health combining key ingredients proven to support mental performance, cognitive and psychological function.

Use it or lose it and use it wisely’ says Prof Burianova. “The brain has the ability to change and evolve, this process is known as neuroplasticity. Mental muscle strengthening such as learning something new helps improve primary cognitive functions such as concentration and memory, and higher-order cognitive functions such as decision making and problem-solving.

Prof Burianova says, “Our brain loves new things and it’s not always possible to do this on a daily basis. A mundane task can be revamped by simply ‘being present’ when doing it. e.g. take brushing your teeth, this simple act, next time you do it, concentrate on that one act, taste, the toothpaste, concentrate on the act nothing else.

20 habits to support your brain health and improve memory:
  1. Be social – social interactions improve brain health – how often you stimulate your mind, and even the quantity (and quality) of your rest all play a role. Daily micro-interactions, for example, having a quick natter with a stranger at a bus stop, in a queue at a supermarket or by the watercooler, have been curtailed by the pandemic, but are very important for social connectedness.
  2. Rest is key for our brain – When we sleep, your brain remains highly active. it’s when memory consolidation takes place, which is essentially your brain filing all the things you have learned.
  3. Stay Active – While sleep and rest might be important for a healthy brain, staying active and getting your heart pumping can be equally beneficial. Being active increases your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain.
  4. Nutrition matters – Evidence is beginning to shape our understanding of how food is linked to brain health and this includes thinking, memory, improved cognitive function and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Specific foods linked to brain health include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B, D and E, choline and flavonoids, creatine and caffeine and this involves improved cognitive functioning in older people by way of how cells communicate.”
  5. Take care of gut health as microbes matter – A diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and oily fish – a bit like a Mediterranean diet – helps promote the health of gut bacteria that produce butyrate / butyric acid and other fatty acids. We’re starting to realise how important these microbes are because they can help us regulate gut-brain communication in a way that is beneficial for our brain / mental health. Take a probiotic such as Healthspan’s SuperPro 20, 30 capsules£10.95 and contains five of the best strains in just one vegan capsule.
  6. Stack up on vital brain nutrients – Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition says, “Nutritional brain health is at the cutting edge of neuroscience right now. From the use of probiotics to regulate the communication between the gut and brain to the use of “nutrient stacks” or combinations of individual neuro l vitamins and minerals to target a specific outcomes , e.g. Healthspan Love Your Brian (28 day supply £19.95, available at www.healthspan.co.uk and Superdrug stores) combines key ingredients proven to support your mental performance, cognitive and psychological function.”
  7. Invest In Learning – Learning is good for your health as it exercises your mind. When you learn something new, your brain forms new connections and associations. Think of it like rivulets forming in the ground after a fresh rain shower – the new information is like raindrops creating an indentation in the soil of your mind which develops into a new pathway. With more of this information, repeating a new skill such as driving or practicing a musical instrument will become embedded and over time, will exist in its own right. Without physical exercise, your muscles will weaken, and it’s the same for the brain. This mental muscle strengthening improves primary cognitive functions such as concentration and memory, and higher-order cognitive functions such as decision making and problem-solving. Keeping your brain firing on all cylinders has also been shown to help us as we age. Studies have indicated that continued learning over our lifespans lowers the chance of developing dementia.
  8. Clever pairings – Love coffee? Caffeine is known to help improve mental alertness and it is also used to overcome fatigue – used often amongst athletes. Studies have suggested that combining L-theanine with caffeine helps boost cognitive performance and alertness.
  9. Reduce brain ageing – The brain shrinks with increasing age. There are changes at all levels. Lack of sufficient nutrients needed for its repair can often lead to changes in shape. Dietary antioxidants often are highlighted for their ability to preserve brain youth, as are vitamins such as B12, B6 and vitamin D3. Stress, alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise or too much exercise can also contribute to brain ageing. Levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, acetylcholine and dopamine can also lead to typical symptoms of brain ageing. These include memory impairment and longer response time.
  10. Avoid multitasking – switching from one task to another very rapidly as the brain is unable to handle it well and it actually increases a stress response, overstimulation of the brain as it increases noise.
  11. Seek novelty – but not compulsively – frequent switching of attention has a detrimental effect on the brain. New information/experience yields a neurochemical reward but we don’t have to go on huge great adventures.
  12. Revel in the mundane – We can’t always seem novel adventures so one way of doing this is to focus on a single task (including daily, mundane ones, e.g., brushing your teeth) e.g. small / taste the toothpaste, be really present at the task at hand.
  13. Habit stack – build on foundational neural connections by linking pre-existing habits to new behaviours, for example, place your supplements by the kettle so that when you go to make your morning tea, you’ll be prompted to take your vitamins. Over time, new neural connections will develop into a ‘habit stack’ whereby you’ll remember to pop the supplements automatically.
  14. Be kind, especially to yourself – kindness really is the gift that keeps on giving as research shows that self-compassion and care are associated with lower biological markers of ageing. We often find it hard to be kind to ourselves however, so start by carving out small pockets of time in your day for quiet, reflective moments.
  15. Spend time with furry and fuzzy friends – it’s not always possible to connect with people, yet pets can be a good proxy to enable a sense on connectedness. Also, research shows that dog owners are more physically active and have more opportunities for human micro-interactions, whilst the soothing qualities of a cat’s purr can reduce stress. Horses have a lower heart rate than us and research indicates that our bodies synch with other living creatures – so time with equine friends can improve heart function which is intricately linked to brain health.
  16. Garden to maintain fine motor skills – hand shovel digging, planting seeds and weeding are all fine motor skills which may deteriorate over time. Even if you don’t have a garden, it’s possible to grow herbs and small plants on windowsills and boxes. The added bonus of feeling connected to nature also benefits brain and psychological health.
  17. Criss-cross the generations – intergenerational mixing improves social and health outcomes for people of all ages, particularly preventing the detrimental brain impact of loneliness for older people. Therefore, set-up some ‘play dates’ with varied age groups of family, friends and people in your community.
  18. Upcycle – in this eco-conscious age, recycling and upcycle is all the rage, and mending clothes or rebuilding household items are all also good activities for the brain. To upcycle an object requires problem-solving, which exercises and builds neural connections that are used less frequently in the modern fast-fashioned world. This will also save you some cash and provide a sense of practical achievement – a win, win, win!
  19. Let’s dance – learning some new footwork increases the brain’s processing speed and boosts memory, as well as acting as a fun social activity. But even learning at home is beneficial, so get your Kevin Bacon on and be footloose and fancy-free.
  20. Tell a bedtime story – recounting stories helps to consolidate memories and improves cognitive function. Called ‘reminiscence therapy’, practice storytelling by expressing emotion within the narrative, use non-verbal expressions and pace to convey the journey and add as much detail as you can. Of course, this doesn’t have to be at bedtime – a good story can be told any time of the day!

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