Have you thought about the health of your hippocampus lately? Probably not, and you may not even know what or where it is!
The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped (hence the name) area of the brain located just above the left and right ear, and was traditionally thought to be part of the limbic system. Recently, research has revealed that keeping a plump and healthy hippocampus is a major factor in staving off memory and mood issues associated with Alzheimer’s.
I’ve always been fascinated by the hippocampus, but I confess, brain and memory health have been on my mind lately. Pun intended. ;)
This year, I’ve been fortunate to spend time caring for my 90-year-old mum in New Zealand. Always smart-as-a-tack with quicker recall than most 20-year-olds, she frequently had the latest international news story on the tip of her tongue.
But I started to notice (this year more than ever) that her stories are set on repeat. Let’s face it: as we age, we forget things, and “senior moments” reign. Movies such as Still Alice shock us into realizing how important our memories really are. And now that the significance of the hippocampus has been pinpointed, I’m devoted to daily exercise and care for the holistic health of my brain as well as my body.
I was excited to see this research highlighted on popular sites such as Prevention.com, where a recent article proposed that memory and brain exercises along with meditation could potentially increase the size of the hippocampus. Who doesn’t want sharper short-term memory, long-term memory health, and an abundance of cheerfulness?
With the value of our dear memories in mind, here are my six easy tips for brain health that I’ve shared with my family and friends, and I want to share them with you, too. To make brain health as routine as your workout:
1. Exercise your brain.
We now know our hippocampus will change and adapt if we treat it right—a term known as neuroplasticity. We see our bodies change when we commit to daily exercise, so we run, lift weights, practice yoga. We exercise our muscles, but the brain can often get left behind. While the hippocampus can’t lift a dumbbell, we still can give the brain a little extra attention of its own.
A 2003 study from the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that cognitive activities such as reading, writing, crosswords, board games, intellectual discussion, and playing music could significantly reduce one’s risk for dementia and mental decline. More recent research continues to support these findings. A 2013 study published in Frontiers of Psychology suggested that playing music (specifically piano) had a positive effect on overall well being as well as promoting cognitive reserve.
Isn’t it fantastic that we can play games and music to keep our brains healthy? So dust off your grand piano or electronic keyboard, locate your Monopoly board, and give your brain a welcomed workout.
Additionally, there are a number of online websites with fun games specifically designed for brain health. Lumosity is perhaps the most well known and allows you to zero-in on the mental functions you want to strengthen. It’s also motivational, showing your improvement over time.
Each morning I spend 10 minutes running through my Lumosity workout. Daily brain “marathon” training is as simple as click, click. Yay, happy hippocampus!
You can also practice these brain exercises from Prevention.com. This is a favorite because you can do it from anywhere:
2. Put down the smartphone.
Have you ever turned to your smartphone calculator instead of relying on your brain to figure out a bill or calculate a tip? Or maybe autocorrect has diminished your ability to spell tricky words on your own.
We know smartphones distract from the physical world, but heavy reliance on our personal devices might also be harming our brains.
One study published in Computers in Human Behavior suggested that, “Individuals who are relatively less willing and/or able to engage effortful reasoning processes may compensate by relying on the internet through their Smartphones.”
Does this mean that smartphones lead to cognitive decline? Not necessarily. However, if cognitive activities are crucial to brain health (as the earlier study suggested), then surely spending a little more time thinking and less time relying on our phones is to our benefit.
Try this: next time you feel the need to do a simple calculation on your phone, put it down and try using the most powerful computer in the world—your brain!
3. Get more sleep.
More and more is being discovered about how our sleep patterns affect our health—especially brain health! At ACHS, we value sleep so much, we added these informational videos on how much sleep you really need to our New Student Orientation.
Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of health issues—including an increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity—but new research has also revealed that poor sleep can contribute to the dangerous plaque that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
As adults, we need seven to ten hours of healthy sleep each night. Children and teenagers require even more. So make sure your little ones are getting at least ten hours and your teens are sleeping for nine to ten.
4. Eat brain-supportive foods.
Food is fuel for your body and mind. Just as cheap gas won’t keep your car running at optimum performance, the food you put in your body significantly impacts brain and memory function.
Remember that the same blood pumping through your brain also circulates through your bowel. An unobstructed, balanced gut plays a crucial role in brain health.
Try incorporating these five brain-boosters into your holistic diet:
- Garlic. High in iodine, which can support healthy brain activity.
- Kelp. High in iodine, phosphorus, and vitamin C—all wonderful brain nutrients.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Promotes a youthful brain.
- Wild salmon. High in phosphorus, vitamin B3 (niacin), and omega-3 fatty acids, which all support healthy brain function.
- Nuts (walnuts, cashews, and almonds). Walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and cashews and almonds are high in phosphorus. Toss up some trail mix for a midday brain boost!
- Foods high in resveratrol (which your hippocampus loves!): red grapes, red wine, peanut butter, cranberries, and blueberries
We all know that stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on our health, and it turns out, the brain in particular. The ability to cope with stress is essential for a healthy mind (stress also ravages our bodies…but that’s a story for another blog post).
When it comes to coping with stress, did you know that meditation can change how your brain perceives bodily sensations of fear, often associated with stress and anxiety, and allows your mind to perceive these stressors more rationally? Meditating just 15 minutes a day can make an impact on your overall well-being.
Meditation also increases your ability to empathize, allowing for clearer and more compassionate communication with friends, loved-ones, and colleagues. Healthy relationships naturally reduce stress.
Dr. Rebecca Gladding explains how meditation can change your brain for the better in her Psychology Today article here.
Are you a newbie at meditation? MindBodyGreen has an excellent video on meditation for beginners: Everything You Need To Know About Meditation
Unfortunately, we now live in a world where it is difficult to get all our daily nutrients from our food—even by following a strict, clean, whole foods diet. But we still need to give the brain everything it needs to keep the wheels movin’.
So what can we do? Supplement.
You’ve probably heard of the brain and memory supportive benefits of gingko Ginkgo biloba (L.), but there are other herbs that can give your brain some well-deserved TLC.
One of my favorite supplements for brain function is brahmi or bacopa Bacopa monnieri (L.) Pennell. It is an Ayurvedic herb used for its tonifying and relaxing qualities. Traditionally, bacopa has been used to support a clear, sharp memory.   It is a useful supplement to have at your side during those long nights of studying.
Keeping your hippocampus happy is fun, and the benefits are real (less senior moments) and long lasting. I hope you’ll join me in applying these tips for a healthy brain into your holistic lifestyle. I would love to hear how you plan to implement your daily happy hippocampus workout.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I am the President and Founder of American College of Healthcare Sciences, the Institution that publishes this blog. However, all opinions are my own. This blog may contain affiliate links. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.
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