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How to keep your brain healthy

Mental health and physical health are talked about a lot. However, people don’t talk enough about brain health. In your 20s and 30s, your brain health probably isn’t top of your agenda—who cares how sharp you’re going to be in your 80s? However, as people slide into midlife, they really start to become aware of their declining brain health: forgetting where things are, not coming up with funny remarks as quickly, and more. This guide will show you a few things that you can do to keep your brain healthy.

Exercise regularly

It should come as no surprise that exercise is at the top of this list. Yes, it really is the answer to everything. It improves your physical health, your mental health, and your brain health. Regular exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline. Plus, it makes it easy to concentrate and keeps you mentally sharp. There’s no getting around it—you need to exercise if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Get plenty of sleep

Yep, sleep is important as well. Anyone who understands the human body won’t be shocked to see that high-quality sleep is linked to brain health as well. Sleep allows our body to repair and re-energise for the next day. If you miss out on sleep, your body and brain will suffer. How much sleep you get isn’t the only important thing either, the quality of the sleep matters. The more time spent in the REM stage of sleep, the better. That means you need uninterrupted sleep.

Eat a Mediterranean diet

If you’re serious about improving your brain health, you should consider eating a Mediterranean diet. This diet involves a lot of vegetables, oil, fruit, fish, and nuts. According to experts, the most important ingredient in this diet (for brain health) is extra-virgin olive oil. It is thought to reduce the formation of plaque and tangles in the brain.

Play online games

Believe it or not, gaming can actually help your brain stay healthier for longer. For years, people have falsely claimed that gaming rots your brain. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Games require active attention and stimulate the brain in a unique way. Check out the top casino games or play a game that is designed specifically for brain training.

Stay mentally active

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. This mantra is a great way to think about brain health. It’s important to use your brain actively every day if you want to stay sharp. Something as simple as a crossword puzzle every day can stimulate your brain and keep it from decaying. Never stop challenging yourself.

Remain socially involved

Social activity is really important if you want to keep your brain healthy. Building social networks and engaging in social activity improve cognitive function and keep your mind agile.

It can even reduce the risk of dementia. Who knew that having friends was actually good for your brain health? Stay in touch with your loved ones and your mind will stay sharp as a razor.

A new brain implant lets paralysed people write with their minds

For decades now, scientists have been connecting the impulses our brain generates whenever we do something—be that moving, speaking or simply sensing—not only to understand and treat brain diseases but also to help people with disabilities. Using Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), researchers have been aiming to restore movement in people with paralysis and potentially help treat neurological and psychiatric diseases. And it certainly looks like they’re getting somewhere.

A study conducted by a team at Stanford University and published in Nature reports on a brain implant that will allow people with impaired limb movement to communicate with text formulated in their mind, no hands needed. How does it work exactly?

When coupled with electrodes implanted in the brain, the artificial intelligence software was able to ‘read’ the thoughts of a man with full-body paralysis as he was asked to convert them to handwriting. The BCI transformed his imagined letters and words into text that appeared on a computer screen—a form of “mental handwriting,” as Scientific American calls it.

The technology could benefit millions of people worldwide who are unable to type or speak because of impaired limbs or vocal muscles. Until now, co-senior study author Krishna Shenoy had helped analyse the neural patterns associated with speech. In other words, Shenoy had managed to decode imagined arm movements so that people with paralysis could move a cursor on a keyboard screen in order to type out letters. However, this specific technique only allowed participants to type around 40 characters per minute, far lower than the average keyboard typing speed of around 190 to 200 characters per minute.

With the help of his team, Shenoy’s recent work focused on imagined handwriting as a way to improve the speed of communication for the first time, which the researchers hope it will reach, at very least, smartphone texting rates. Their technique allowed the study subject, who was 65 years old at the time of the research, to mentally type 90 characters per minute. Although we’re not at the 190 characters per minute efficiency just yet, that rate is not far from average for most senior texters “who can typically type around 115 characters per minute on a smartphone,” according to Scientific American.

The study participant had suffered a spinal cord injury in 2007, and had lost most movement below his neck. In 2016, Stanford neurosurgeon Jaimie Henderson, co-senior author of the paper, implanted two small BCI chips into the man’s brain. Each of the chips had 100 electrodes capable of sensing neuronal activity. They were implanted in a region of the motor cortex that controls movement of the arms and hands, allowing the researchers to profile brain-activity patterns associated with written language.

Not only could this technology’s recent success help restore communication in people who are severely paralysed, but it could also light the way for more progress in intracortical brain-computer interfaces. But as assistant professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University Mijail D. Serruya, who studies BCIs in stroke recovery but was not involved in the research, told Scientific American, “Why not teach the person a new language based on simpler elementary gestures, similar to stenography chords or sign language?”

Through his question, Serruya highlighted the fact that focusing on restoring communication via written letters may not be the most efficient means of doing so. In fact, although translating the brain’s control over handwriting is a significant first step in reclaiming someone’s ability to communicate, decoding what that person actually intends to say is still a major challenge researchers face.

For now, given that we generate speech much more quickly than we write or type, it’s hard to predict when the researchers’ method will be translated into a real device that anyone can buy. “We hope it’s within years and not decades!” said Frank Willett, lead author of the paper and a research scientist at Stanford’s Neural Prosthetics Translational Laboratory. Meanwhile, Elon Musk has made a monkey play Pong telepathically. Priorities, am I right?