When it comes to health, most of us focus on eating well and staying in shape. We pay attention to how our daily activity affects our physical body, but it's less likely for us to focus on habits that can improve our brain health. But just as we do certain things everyday to keep our body feeling good, we can also participate in daily activities that improve our brain power, working to strengthen our focus, our memory, and even our mood.
"Our daily routine influences the way our brain is stimulated and can have a significant impact on neurologic and mental health," says Dr. Shilpi Agarwal to Bustle over email. "By taking care of our health through proper nutrition and exercise we can enhance the brain's ability to perform the necessary tasks required to get through our day and continue to keep us alert and sharp. Additionally, continuously engaging in complex tasks that require multi-level thinking can help keep us alert and focused."
Engaging in learning activities is always good for your brain, but other physical activities can have an impact on our mental health as well. If you want to keep your mind sharp and functioning optimally, consider adopting these seven habits that keep your brain fresh and active.
"Sleep is the most restorative phase for the brain," says Agarwal. "Getting seven to nine hours of sleep can help the brain to process things faster and has research to prove it enhances memory." While we sleep, our brain is responsible for a variety of functions, including solidifying memory and repairing damaged cells.
2. Playing Games
"Try to do one activity that challenges the mind every day," says Agarwal. "I love friendly game nights because playing cards and other games help us to think and use skills that we may not normally access in our daily routines." A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that playing games such as card games or board games can help protect the brain from degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's.
Studies from the University of British Columbia found that regular exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. "Physically stimulating the body also provides a boost of energy that can help us to think more clearly and increases energy," says Agarwal.
"Taking time to read something interesting boosts our cognitive skills and brain health," says Agarwal. Research from Emory University found that reading fiction enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function, especially in language and embodied cognition (visualizing doing something you're actually not).
If you need a good excuse to meet some friends for happy hour, here's one: A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that daily social interaction can help protect the brain against dementia and Alzheimer's. Socializing not only stimulates the brain, but it can help encourage healthy behaviors such as exercise.
Mindfulness meditation is a great way to destress and improve mood, but it can also improve your brain functioning. Research from Harvard University found that people who are regular meditators have increased gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, which improves your senses, and in the frontal cortex, which improves working memory and executive decision making.
7. Eating Fish
"Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those contained in salmon, tuna and other oily fish are fundamental to brain function," says neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez over email. "Omega-3s may reduce inflammation in the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells."
Practicing these daily habits can not only refresh your mind instantly, but protect your brain long-term.
Images: Lumina/Stocksy, VICTOR TORRES/Stocksy, Wizemark/Stocksy; Cindy Ord/Getty Images, Tom Cooper/Getty Images, Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images, Peter Summers/Getty Images, Cameron Spencer/Getty Images