Better at: Mental Fitness

We all know it's important to keep in shape, go to the gym, exercise, take walks, but have you ever thought about how important it is to exercise your brain?

Today we are talking about mental fitness and brain health, and sharing the tips, studies and products that can help.

Video Transcript

KAIT HOWELL: We all know it's important to keep in shape, go to the gym and exercise. But have you ever thought about how important it is to exercise your brain? Well, today, we're talking all about mental fitness and brain health, and sharing the tips, studies and products that can help.

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There's a lot we can do to keep our brain sharp from healthy lifestyle habits to even playing games. And while the research is still being explored, there's a lot of interesting studies that suggest some brain games may help with cognitive function. A study in 2017 found that training centered around processing speed reduce the risk of developing dementia. Even young people can benefit from mental fitness, improving things like memory and processing speed.

Now, keep in mind, there are a lot of different brain training exercises and everyone reacts to them differently. So what could help one person isn't necessarily going to help somebody else. But either way, they can be super fun and even kind of relaxing. So it's worth incorporating. You can always start with that classic game of Sudoku, try your hand at a crossword puzzle or even some brainteasers.

As we know, different parts of our brain have different functions. And things like games and crossword puzzles can help you target and exercise those functions. For instance, word games can help build the parts of your brain associated with language and reasoning whereas mazes and Jigsaw puzzles can bolster the parts that help with processing visual shapes and patterns. Plus, there are a number of apps that can help with processing speed and visual skills like Brain HQ or CogniFit.

Now if you're looking to improve your memory in general, UCLA researchers and the Gallup organization worked on a poll that found people with healthy habits in general. Things like physical exercise and not smoking generally had better memory scores. Participants who engage in just one healthy habit were 21% less likely to report memory problems. Great, right?

And a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer's and dementia and that exercise in older adults increases the protein known for strengthening communication between the brain cells across synapses, which is part of maintaining good cognition. And as an added bonus, expert suggests trying new things as your brain is forced to problem solve versus always being on autopilot.

So if you're a runner, try a different route. Or if you just do yoga, maybe try Pilates to change it up. A fitness tracker like this can incentivize you to get out there and keep you on track to improving your fitness. And for a less pricey option, Fitbit is always a classic. And let's not forget one of the biggest healthy habits a good sleep routine. A study published by Jama Neurology showed that sleeping 6 hours or less per night was associated with impaired cognition and memory.

Now, the study was observational, so the findings are not set in stone. But we know that getting a good night's sleep helps with overall function in general. So it's worth making sure that your sleep hygiene is on point of course, we can't talk about the brain without also talking about meditation. Meditation has been found to increase gray matter in the brain, which decreases as we age. And gray matter impacts memory and cognition. So it's super important.

If you're just starting out, try doing it for a short amount of time like, 5 minutes. And it can be helpful to use a guided app like Insight Timer. We may not think about positivity as part of mental fitness and brain health. But when it can influence your day and mood, becomes really important. Studies show that those that focus on gratitude every day may actually rewire the positive neural pathways in the brain.

One study in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" than that those that kept a gratitude journal had greater improvements in optimism, while another study found that gratitude can help with a better night's rest. Well, a study by the National Institutes of Health found that feelings of gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, which is responsible for numerous functions in the body. So it's worth keeping even a small journal of things you're grateful for. I personally use this five minute journal, as it has great promise, and it's a small amount of time to incorporate into your day.

So what are you waiting for? Start getting in some exercise. Bring out those crossword puzzles. And get better at mental fitness and brain health.

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