Three ways to ensure you live a longer and happier life

Story sponsored by 3Bridges Community.

We all know that healthy brain development is important for children. In fact, it’s the very reason we as a nation spend billions of dollars a year on education and early childhood rebates. 

Throughout the first 18 years of our lives we learn to communicate, reason, think critically, socialize, strategize and everything in between. 

The human brain doesn’t stop growing until we hit our mid 20s. For some, it doesn’t fully develop until they’re nearly 30. But what happens once we hit adulthood? What should we do once our brains are operating at optimal capacity?

Well – in short – we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Good brain health and continued development are essential components for a long, happy and rewarding life. And, it becomes increasingly important as you get older.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, contributing to 5.4 per cent of all deaths in men and 10.6 per cent in women each year. More than 436,000 Aussies are estimated to suffer the condition, with 250 people developing it each and every day. 

Thankfully, there are preventative measures that can be taken to help stave off this and some forms of mental illness. That’s why 3Bridges Community will holding a Brain Health and Wellness Festival at Carss Park on Wednesday, November 14.

The event is designed to promote better brain health and remind people of all ages that the actions they take today can have long term effects, both positive and negative.

Here are three easy ways you can keep your brain healthy and live a longer happier life:

1 – Keep your mind active

One of the most important things you can do to keep your brain healthy is to stimulate it on a regular basis and continuously challenge it in new and exciting ways. 

Whether it’s learning to play a musical instrument or speak another language or even something slightly easier like doing crossword puzzles or reading a book about an interesting subject you’ve never looked into before, it can all help you live a longer happier life.

For many years experts believed our brains were hard wired however the latest research suggests the opposite is true. In fact, your brain can – and does – rewire itself. Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term for the biological changes that occur in the brain in response to changes in the real world or new experiences.  

According to Dementia Australia, keeping the brain active is thought to build reserves of healthy brain cells and connections between them. Numerous studies have suggested that engaging in more mentally stimulating activities throughout life can lead to better cognitive function, reduced decline and less risk of developing dementia. 

By wavebreakmedia. Shutterstock.com.

By wavebreakmedia. Shutterstock.com.

2 – Volunteering and helping others

While we all know volunteering is important for the economy, it’s also good for your physical and mental health.

The primary reason volunteering is good for brain health is pretty straight forward: it’s stimulating – far more so than watching Dr Phil and ordering a blender off day time infomercials – and as we’ve already established that’s a good thing. 

However, the benefits go far beyond that. Volunteering helps stave off depression and helps give a person a sense of purpose, which is especially important if you’re retired or under employed. It also increases happiness. 

According to Sydney University, helping others triggers the reward pathway in the brain known as the mesolimbic system. It releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and vasopressin.

In addition, a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University, found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure, which is an important indicator of overall health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

Brain infarcts, heart disease and mid-life hypertension all increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which brings us directly to our next point…

3 – Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis

Your body and brain are like a car. If you service a car, if you look after it, if you change the oil, maintain the engine and drive it regularly, it will last you for years. However, if you leave it sitting stationary for long periods of time, have dirty fuel lines and oil filters and never service it, well, I hope you’ve got insurance. 

Your brain and body are no different. If you don’t maintain a healthy nutritious diet and exercise on a daily basis you’re really setting yourself up for some catastrophic physiological failures. 

Not only does exercise help lower blood pressure, reduce risk of cardio vascular disease and stave off depression, it can also change your brain itself. 

A study by the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise – the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping – “appears” to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. 

Exercise also helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. According to Harvard University, the benefits of exercise come from its ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation whilst stimulating the release of chemicals that affect the growth of both brain cells and new blood vessels in the brain. They also increase the abundance and survival of new brain cells.

In addition, exercise improves mood, sleep patterns and reduces both stress and anxiety, which all contribute to cognitive impairment. Many studies have even suggested that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex (the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory) have greater volume in people who exercise. 

Equally important is what you put in your body. Maintaining a healthy nutritious diet is fundamental to both physical and mental health. 

While there has been a lot of research and publicity around the idea of brain boosting super foods in the last few years, experts from Harvard say the evidence is “preliminary at best”. Instead, they recommend maintaining a predominantly plant based diet and regular exercise. 

Perhaps more importantly than determining what to eat however is recognising what not to. While eating high-quality foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourish the brain and protect it, diets that are high in saturated fats, refined sugars and processed junk can have seriously negative effects. 

Not only does your diet affect your body’s serotonin levels – which is essential to the effectiveness of cognitive function – if harmful chemicals make their way to the brain, it can hard to get rid of them. 

So what else can you do?

Maintaining a healthy social life, reducing social isolationism and mindfulness exercises such as meditation, yoga and tai chi have also been found to help. 

However, the reality is there is a myriad of things we can do on a day to day basis to promote better brain health. The most important thing you can do is avoid stagnation.

Just remember, everything you do has an effect on both your brain and body. So make the right decisions and lead a healthy, active, empathetic lifestyle. It will pay dividends in the long run.

The Brain Health and Wellness Festival will take place between 11am and 2pm at Carss Park on Wednesday, November 14. The event is designed to promote better brain health.  As such there will be attractions aimed at people of all ages, from giant lego and jenga stacks to tai chi workshops, a pop up wellness retreat, free massages, meditation, zumba classes, arts, crafts and even a pamper session. They will also be providing a substantial and nutritious lunch to all guests (everything is free). Please register your attendance online at trybooking.com/YVSX or call Dayle at 1300 327 434 or email admin@3bridges.org.au

Story sponsored by 3Bridges Community.