Your brain affects all of you, mind and body. In turn, your mind and whole body affect the health of your brain. So a cognitive routine isn’t like an abs workout that zeroes in on one part of you. A good brain-health routine is a workout for the whole person.
Elevate Brain Health with Light, Music, and More
Music, light, exercise, and meditation: here are some thoughts about why they should be a part of your cognitive health routine, and some suggestions for how to use them for better brain health.
Why: Music has it all! It’s pleasurable and mathematical. It promotes both mindfulness of the present moment and memory of what has just passed. It’s about the relationships between the notes, and it’s about the pure sensation of hearing. And nothing is more emotionally evocative. It’s easy to see why music is a workout for your whole brain.
How: For ultimate engagement, try playing music. You know nothing about music, you say? How about an Irish tin whistle? It’s quiet, it’s cheap, it’s very easy, and you don’t have to be able to read music. But if you would rather not subject your ears or those of your loved ones to your performances, listening to music still engages the brain in a creative way. Classical music is famous for its brain-power-enhancing capabilities, but the best music for your brain is probably the music you enjoy the most. Try closing your eyes and simply being aware of the physical sensations the music causes in you.
Why: Light therapy is a respected treatment for seasonal depression and sleep disorders. And exciting new research shows that lights that flicker at the same frequency as neuron activity in the brain may cause measurable improvements in cognitive function, actually reducing the amyloid plaque in the brain, especially when used in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle choices.
How: Light therapy boxes for seasonal affective disorder are available, but don’t overlook the best source of natural light: the sun. Being outdoors reduces depression, stress, and anxiety. I created the BEACON40™, based on cutting-edge research into the effects of gamma-rhythms on the brain, with the hope that it may offer help to families battling cognitive decline.
Why: Exercise increases your heart rate, supplying your brain with more oxygen. Some research suggests that it slows the shrinking of the hippocampus, which is the memory and learning center of the brain. Exercise decreases depression, anxiety, and stress, and promotes neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to new things. Finally, there is a clear association between exercise and the prevention of dementia.
How: The healthiest exercise is the kind you actually do. So instead of choosing the optimal workout, find a kind of exercise you enjoy. Stick with it, or switch it up. Use it for socializing or use it for alone time. Get up early or stay up late. Join a class or use an app. But focusing on what’s fun for you is the way to stick with it.
Why: In recent years, science and industry have discovered what philosophers and sages have been saying for thousands of years: meditation brings a higher quality of life. It is also a well-respected method for reducing stress and anxiety and improving emotional health in general, and it may even work to combat cognitive decline.
How: There are many respected sources that can help you discover meditation practices. A little looking will lead you to a wide variety of choices and instructions. It is best to look into several methods and teachers and find one that feels right for you. Once you begin meditation you will almost certainly find — as countless others have found before you — that meditation gently clears and settles the mind. This may be the start to a more fulfilling and productive life and a greater sense of well being.