After turning 40 most people have memory glitches high on their lists of concerns. Whether it’s your lost keys, a forgotten name or some other issue we call a “senior moment,” we all fear these issues are signs of a deteriorating brain. Science tells us that memory is not necessarily the most important measure of brain health. There are a number of products you can take and routines you can follow to improve your mental health. Unfortunately most of them don’t work, they are expensive and can be dangerous.
Keeping your brain healthy is one of the most researched topics around. That means there’s a lot of good information available on brain health but there are a lot of pie-in-the-sky myths, too. All research techniques are not created equal and many findings are biased depending on where the funding comes from. For example, if a company hires a research group to experiment on its product it would make sense that the results would be slanted in favor of that client. I have personally had researchers admit to me that they sometimes sell themselves when they receive money from a client to test a product or theory.
Using common sense can help you sift through a lot of the nonsense. But since common sense is not always commonm I’ll help you dispel some of the myths. Below are some common myths people still preach, teach and live by.
Myth#1: Brain health steadily declines with age
Not true! Scientists at one time believed that we are born with all the brain cells that we would ever have and that the ability to form new brain cells ends during adolescence. It’s now known that your brain is the most modifiable part of your body. It’s now known that your brain is constantly being changed by how we use it and take care of it. These changes in your brain can be measured. You can get a new car in the morning and by the evening your brain has adjusted to all the new features including the computer.
We know now that as you experience new things your neural activity increases and promotes the development of brain cells. If you don’t put them to use, they will die.
As you get older your ability to think can continue to grow if you exercise your brain. You should engage your brain with creativity, curiosity and problem-solving. Challenge your brain. Don’t just read a book, think about it. You could even read it again to get more insight into the book.
Myth#2: A good memory indicates mental health
Not true! Memory skills are not an indicator of healthy everyday life performance. This means you can have an excellent memory but not be more innovative, insightful, creative or mentally productive.
Don’t worry that you can’t remember everything. We always tend to note what we forget but we don’t give ourselves credit for all the things we do remember. If you try to remember everything you become less efficient, more stressed, overwhelmed and bogged down in meaningless details. If it’s important you will remember it. It’s OK to occasionally forget a task. But when your forgetfulness begins to interfere with your daily performance, it could be a sign of something more. A memory problem doesn’t mean dementia.
Myth#3: Multitasking gives your brain a good workout
Not true! When you multitask your brain has to call on different parts to handle the load. Your brain works inefficiently because your communication isn’t synchronized. If you overwork your brain, it becomes fatigued. This will slow efficiency and decrease performance.
Focus on one task and nothing else. Turn your phone off. Don’t watch TV. Don’t check email because you get an alert. Research shows that you’ll think more clearly for 15 minutes than a person that multitasks for an hour.
Myth#4: People with high IQs have more brainpower
Not true! IQ tests were developed more than a century ago. They mainly emphasize skills as knowledge, memory and speed to perform mathematical equations. We now have computers to do all of these functions. We can now Google anything. It is much more important to know how to use knowledge, understand and apply knowledge.
Myth#5: Supplements can keep you sharp as you get older
Not true! Research shows that there is insufficient evidence that multivitamins will improve brain health. Nutrients needed to keep your brain active and healthy can be met through food.
Myth#6: Your mood has little to do with your mind
Not true! Your mental well-being according to recent research is related to brain health as you age. The greater your mental well-being the more you reduce your dementia risks. If you engage in activities you enjoy and maintain a meaningful relationship with your family and friends, it can help you keep your brain healthy.
The combination of mental and physical activity, good nutrition and sleep go a long way in improving your brain’s abilities.
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