Health Wellbeing

Be Healthy – brain health

Last week, as part of Be Healthy, we looked at how food can improve your wellbeing. This week, we’re going to focus on how you can make sure your brain is as healthy as it can be.

Our brains are always on the go, and it’s important that we keep them healthy – no matter what age we are. By keeping your brain challenged, you’re able to build new brain cells and strengthen the connections between them. And in the long term, there’s increasing evidence that keeping your brain healthy can help reduce the risk of dementia at a later stage of life.

Whilst your brain is definitely stimulated by your academic work, it’s important that that you try and get a good balance between all the different ways to keep your brain active and healthy. The right food, and a bit of relaxation are just as important for your brain as your body. Here are some of our best ways to help you find that balance.

Brain food

There are lots of nutrients which can really improve mental function. Fatty fish is known as the top brain food and includes fish such as salmon, trout and sardines that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Did you know that 60% of the brain is made up of fat, half of which is of the omega-3 kind? By eating fatty fish, you’ll be building more brain and nerve cells and increase your learning, memory and decision making abilities.

Berries are also really great brain foods. Blueberries contain antioxidants which have been found to improve communications between brain cells, whilst blackcurrants contain high levels of vitamin C which has been seen to manage anxiety and stress amongst students.

If you’re thinking about treating yourself, consider choosing dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, a group of antioxidant plant compounds which gather in the areas of the brain which work on learning and memory.

Brain training

Brain training apps are great for stimulating the important areas of the brain linked to basic cognitive activity. Psychologists have been able to develop games which specifically change the cell density of these all-important areas.

Three brain training apps which have been acclaimed by scientists include Elevate, BrainHQ and CogniFit.

Stimulate your brain with interests outside your studies

However, if you feel like brain training apps aren’t for you, there’s plenty of other ways to keep your brain stimulated in different ways to your academic learning. And the good news is social activities are a great way to keep your brain stimulated. Whether it’s catching up with family or friends, organising a cards night with your mates or learning a new skill, keeping your brain active with good conversation and the odd challenge will all help!

One great idea is to read a book outside of your academic studies. Content Ambassador Frances has shared why she has restarted reading, and it’s a fantastic way to stimulate your brain. Reading gives your brain a workout, improving your communication skills, memory and brain connectivity, whilst also decreasing levels of stress. Reading a physical book is also much better for your brain than any computer screen, which overstimulates your brain due to the high levels of blue light emitted from screens.

Meditation and mindfulness

Both meditation and mindfulness are also ways to calm the brain. By calming the brain, you block out signs of stress, meaning your brain has a larger capacity to learn. Research has shown that meditation will improve your concentration and memory, meaning information in the brain can be processed quicker.

If you’re a total beginner when it comes to meditation and mindfulness, check out Content Ambassador Malaika’s Mindfulness 101 guide. Or, Frances has also taken a visit to Manchester Art Gallery’s newest exhibition which encourages mindfulness using art and cultural artefacts.

The University also provides lots of support. Exam Extra will be hosting some calming mindfulness sessions during the exam season, whilst there are other relaxing workshops available and even some free relaxation audio downloads.

Competition time

We’ve got another competition for you! To get your brain into gear, we’re going to be posting one brainteaser a day on Students at Manchester and on My Manchester. If you can guess all four correctly, you’ll be in with the chance of winning some Crystal Maze Experience vouchers!

Guess all of them correctly and email the answers to studentnews@manchester.ac.uk and you’ll be entered into a prize draw. We’ll randomly select one winner who will win x4 tickets to Manchester’s Crystal Maze Experience. You’ll need to guess all four brainteasers and email them to studentnews@manchester.ac.uk by midnight on Monday 13 May. We’ll then release all the answers later in the week. Good luck!

Please note: one entry per person will be accepted. Only current University of Manchester students are eligible for the competition. Winners will need to provide a valid student ID number when collecting their prize and be able to collect their prize in person. Emails up until midnight on Monday 13th May will be accepted. Winners will be contacted within 7 days of the closing date.

For more information on the Six Ways to Wellbeing check out the website, where you’ll be able to find out much more on Be Healthy.