RB: How much control do we have over the health of our own minds?
Dr Talitha Best (TB): There’s exciting, emerging evidence around certain diets, wholefoods and dietary components – such as the B group vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and certain polyphenols – and the positive effect they can have on everyday mental function, such as memory, concentration, attention and problem solving.
RB: Are there any ‘thinking habits’ we can adopt to nurture our minds?
TB: Be aware that how you think about yourself can impact your memory.
Rumination and worry can lower your mood and lower your ability to pay attention, learn new information and then remember that information.
The brain responds to a number of mood states that could impact upon the brain’s connections and pathways.
The best tip I’ve find is to be in the moment, be mindful of what is coming up, and focus on the things that serve you rather than trying to rehearse things all the time.
Being in the moment is the best strategy because then you’re able to learn and encode new information and you’re able to recall information that you’ve already stored. Yep, no multitasking!
RB: What foods should we be eating?
TB: The brain requires lots of mental energy to perform the tasks of thinking, problem solving, planning, learning and remembering shopping lists, pin numbers and when to pick up the kids.
One of the main sources of energy for the brain is glucose – so blood sugar is really important in terms of mental functioning.
A stable blood glucose level is important for maintaining a constant source of energy for the brain, but also in terms of supporting your body and all the other functions that in turn support the brain to function at its best, such as the production and regulation of the hormones insulin, cortisol and adrenalin.
Red cabbage and mushrooms, legumes, pulses, seeds and nuts – these sorts of foods are emerging as rich sources of nutrients that support the brain.
RB: What’s the impact of exercise on the brain?
TB: There’s some really exciting research coming up that shows how exercise and physical activity improve blood flow and heart function, which is really important for the brain.
Exercise improves brain tissue, in an area called the hippocampus which is related to memory and learning. So it has a direct effect on how that area of the brain is working.
Also, we know that in older women exercise and physical activity improves their ability to recall information and focus on different tasks that call on their memories. It also helps preserve memory and prevents cognitive decline as they get older.
Exercise also improves mood, blood glucose and blood flow mechanisms which all support healthy memory function.