This week is Brain Awareness Week: is your brain as fit as it could be?

Written by Ravinder Lilly - Dietitian and Health Writer

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is a worldwide global campaign to increase peoples’ awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

BAW runs from 11-17 March 2013 and will see organisations worldwide unite to encourage research into this incredible organ and celebrate the brain and its many functions.

There will be exhibitions on the brain, lectures on brain related topics and displays at libraries and community centres and classrooms.

Diet and exercise have a big impact on brain health at every age. So, for example, we know that too much salt and too many calories and fat, can affect circulation for the worse. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood nourishing the brain. Although your brain weighs just two per cent of your body weight, it requires around 20 per cent of the calories you consume. So, keeping your circulation healthy by cutting down on saturated fats and avoiding cigarette smoke are two ways to help keep your blood vessels clean and clear.

Mental exercises such as crosswords and Sudoku, learning and practicing a language and learning music can help to keep your brain sharper for longer, too.

Exercise is a must to boost the circulation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood around the brain. Exercise has also been shown to reduce mild depression and boost self-esteem. Rest is essential too, so try and get into a regular sleeping pattern so that you get enough restful and restorative sleep.

Brain food?

Nerve fibres send messages in the same way as electric wires. So, for messages to flow freely, they need to be insulated. Nerve cells are insulated with a fatty substance called myelin and essential long chain omega-3 fats (as found in oily fish) are vital to help build and maintain myelin. So, fish really is brain food!

Your body can make the long chain omega-3 fats it needs from foods such as walnuts and flaxseeds (although the conversion rate isn’t very efficient and gets less efficient with age). So opt for two to three serves (150 gram each) of oily fish like salmon and fresh tuna.

BiOmega™ (which is rich in the essential fats DHA and EPA) is an excellent fish oil supplement that’s free from contaminants such as mercury, that may be present in some larger predatory fish such as swordfish.

There are lots of ways to keep your brain sharp and you’ll find more ideas and information from the Dana Foundation which runs Brain Awareness Week.

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