11 ways to keep your brain in shape


Your patients need you to be sharp for each appointment, so take these steps to make sure your mind is prepared to meet every challenge.

You look after sick patients and worried clients on a daily basis. But what are you doing to take care of yourself? Maybe you work out regularly to stay in good physical shape—But you’ve also got to work out your mind in order to stay healthy as you age and to give your veterinary clients and patients your very best. Here are some tips for keeping your mind sharp, courtesy of Keith L. Black, MD, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

1. Find a puzzle and solve it. The brain appears to respond to mental exercise—challenges that help keep it nimble. Whether games and puzzles help delay onset of dementia is the subject of debate and research. But people who keep busy with activities they enjoy—knitting, learning languages, reading—seem to have less memory impairment in later years. While the hard scientific evidence is yet to come, keeping your mind active through “play” certainly won’t hurt in the meantime.

2. Eat a nutrient-rich diet. Deficiencies in certain vitamins have been shown to decrease memory skills. B vitamins are key for concentration and memory. It’s also important to avoid sugar spikes. Your brain cells need a steady supply of glucose for fuel, and the sugar from simple carbohydrates causes a spike and rapid decline in blood sugar levels. This causes mental focus to drop fast as well. So instead of fast foods and simple sugars, choose fruits, whole grains, and vegetables along with a high-quality protein to keep brain cells evenly fueled.

3. Don’t jump on every food fad, but pay attention to trends. No single miracle food will prevent or reverse brain disorders. But there do appear to be many health benefits in fruits and vegetables—particularly berries. Substances in thee foods seem to reduce age-related brain cell deficits and improve cell-to-cell signaling. The best long-term brain diet includes a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Drink in moderation, if you must. Over time, too much of an OK thing like alcohol can shrink brain mass and disrupt signaling chemicals in the brain, reducing memory and cognitive function.

5. Stop smoking. Some studies find a link between cigarette smoking and brain cell damage. But there’s another reason to quit smoking. Smoking is known to cause lung cancer and when that disease spreads, one of its favorite targets is the brain.

6. If you’re tired, take a nap and try to go to bed earlier. Sleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to store and recall memories.

7. If you’re stressed, take a break. Meditate, relax, or exercise. Sometimes physical activity can help clear the mind. It also improves memory by boosting brain chemicals that encourage nerve cell growth.

8. When you participate in sports, wear a helmet and take every bump to your head seriously. If there’s a chance you have a concussion, head straight to the hospital.

9. Watch your heart health. If something is good for your heart, it’s good for your brain. When you watch your cholesterol, control your blood pressure, and exercise for your heart, your brain benefits, too.

10. Don’t ignore stroke symptoms. You’re not too young to suffer a stroke; 25 percent of all strokes occur in those younger than 65. So don’t ignore warning signs.

11. Use a headset with that cell phone. Researchers are continuing to investigate whether radio frequency waves produced by cell phones increase the risk of brain tumors. Early studies are inconclusive and some are flawed. What’s more, the effects of radio waves may not become known until a long period of time has passed, even decades. This means that results of studies could be too late for the people chattering on cell phones today. Take a cautious approach: Keep your cell phone away from your head and use the speaker function or a wired headset. Even a wireless headset emits some radiofrequency waves.

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