Your Brain Health: Practicing What You Preach

By promoting brain awareness across Ontario, OBI is helping people take charge of their own brain health. Need some inspiration? OBI staffers reveal their own brain-health tips.

There are many things you can do for your brain’s benefit. Managing stressgetting enough sleepeating well, engaging in different cognitive exercises— all are great ways to improve your brain health.

As it turns out, so is regular physical activity, which is crucial to living longer and healthier. What’s more, not only is it great for your general physical well-being, but an abundance of evidence suggests that its benefits extend to the brain as well. For example, a recent report from OBI suggests that regular physical activity can have a significant impact on reducing the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, regular physical activity can increase the quality of life and decrease depression in those who already have a diagnosis.

In truth, exercise and other forms of physical activity might be the closest thing we have to a ‘wonder drug’: not only is it effective against a variety of disorders, it also functions as an excellent preventative measure. And, it is free.

That said, many of us fail to meet current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines Canadian, which recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

One major reason for this is time — or rather, lack of it. Our days are already overstuffed with functions that require little movement or are performed mainly while we are sitting: driving to and from work; sitting at a desk; traveling on a plane. It’s no wonder we struggle to set aside any precious time for exercise.

So we posed this question to OBI staff: “How do you keep your brain fit?”

Carla Arasanz, Knowledge Translation Lead

I love to walk. It clears my head and gives me the jolt of energy I need to start my day.  It’s all about simple pleasures for me, so even a 10 minute walk when it’s sunny can be the highlight of my day. On weekends I love to bike ride, rollerblade, and jog with friends. This is easier in the summer months, so I reserve indoor soccer for the fall/winter!

Alison Fenney, Senior Program Lead, Industry Relations

To keep fit I practise yoga in the mornings and walk everywhere I can— I average about 6 km a day on weekdays, and about 10km a day on weekends. All that walking is in large part due to the fact I have a sheepdog/hound cross named Scout who loves smelling new things— the same route twice does not impress this puppy.

Keith Pinder, Secretary to the Board of Directors

Attention to health REALLY matters to me at my age, so a combination of things have kept me healthy thus far. Diet— my wife and I try to eat well; avoiding high fat, high sugar and highly processed foods. Lots of veggies and fruit, lighter on the proteins and carbs.  But really good bread is hard to resist. I continue to work part-time, and am surrounded by very bright colleagues at  OBI and I am challenged  to do new things, and do things differently in a fast-paced start-up organization.   I walk as part of my trip to work— a total of about an hour a day.  I find it easier to integrate this exercise into the commute, something I must do anyway. I ride a bike quite a lot in the summer, either road or mountain bike in the Oak Ridges Moraine.  I try to get at least 50 km per week on the bike, and more if I’m preparing for a bike tour.   In the winter, weekly cross country skiing if the snow conditions permit – an increasingly tough challenge. And I have a woodworking hobby (my wife might say addiction).   I enjoy finding new techniques to build cabinetry, and trying to create new things.   It all keeps the mind alert.  But I’m still looking at a technique that works for me to remember names!

Lucas Ng, Program Officer, Industry Relations

If you had asked me about keeping my brain fit a few years ago, I would have had few words to say. I would probably tell you that I did things here and there, but in reality it wasn’t much. Only until recently did I realize that keeping my brain fit isn’t just a list of to-dos for the day, it’s a lifestyle. Whether it is running that extra mile at the gym, learning a new language, or practicing a musical instrument, I try and mix it up and incorporate these activities into my schedule. Most importantly, I ensure that I keep my brain interested and challenged every day.

Jacob Morgan, Outreach Intern

I have been steeped in music from a very young age, and I enjoy using music as a way to engage and enhance my brain function. A far cry from some sort of “auditory cheesecake,” the musical experience immerses the brain, involving aspects of fine motor coordination, executive control, working memory, pattern recognition, among the complex orchestration of a myriad of other mental tasks – the equivalent of neurological acrobatics. Musical performance is highly social and requires an understanding of others’ thoughts and plans. In fact, there is a mounting body of evidence to suggest that music is intrinsically linked to communication, language, and human culture – we may be deeply “musical creatures”. Above all, for me music is a hugely satisfying way to relieve stress, develop a sense of self-esteem, and explore new creative ideas – all of which help keep my brain in shape.

Clara Chang, Program Lead, Research Programs

I love all racquet sports though I’ve been playing badminton since I was young and nowadays I play twice a week and would love to pick up squash.  My brain also loves sleep, so I try to get 7-8 hours every night.  Besides this, I love a friendly, competitive board game match or the challenge of puzzling out the New York Times Sunday edition crossword.

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