Why brain health is a family matter
At any age, you can work toward a better, more efficient brain. “Think of the brain as a muscle—everyone knows working out will make your muscles bigger and stronger, but that if you stop exercising, the muscles shrink and become weaker,” says Daniel Amen, PhD, renowned brain expert, double-board-certified psychiatrist, physician, and author of Time for Bed Sleepyhead. That’s why it’s so important to start exercising the brain early. “Children need to lay the foundations for brain function and literally build these ‘roads’ from scratch,” says Jeffrey M. Egler, MD, board-certified family practice physician with a specialty training in preventive, functional medicine. “This requires much repetition and practice just to develop new skills and even more to solidly root them.” That means it’s your job, as Mom and Dad, to lay fresh tracks for your child so he or she can continue to adapt and stay functional and competitive in a quickly changing world. Here are doc-recommended ways to help little ones (and not so little ones) develop strong, healthy brains. This is the best brain food your family should be eating.
Make up a sort-of real story together
Most young children love to recreate the daily activities they see their parents and other adults do in their play—and it’s not only fun, it’s beneficial. “Creative activities, new experiences, and building strong social networks are ways to have a positive impact on brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and change itself as it absorbs new information,” says Kristin M. Mascotti, MD, quality medical officer at Miller’s Children’s and Women’s Hospital, in Long Beach, California. Creating new, imaginary environments builds brain development. Try role play, such as imitating a day at school where the child becomes the teacher and the adult becomes student. The “teacher” could assign and grade homework while the class may take a trip to the lunchroom or go on a field trip. The “teacher” may have to learn to deal with any unruly students! “These types of activities allow the child to adapt to new surroundings, interact in alternative ways, and build new cognitive pathways,” she says. Your brain loves these daily healthy habits.
Read to your children—even when they’re infants
Hearing new words and seeing colors and images help children use different parts of their brain, says Jacqueline Romanies, DC, pediatric and family chiropractor. “This allows for sensory pathway development which, in turn, helps develop cognition, or the ability to acquire knowledge and understand through thought, experience, and the senses.” Think of how many times a baby hears the words “ma-ma” and “da-da” before saying those words. Reading to a child stimulates and reinforces their sense of the world around them—which in the very beginning is mostly the world in their home. Here are early reading habits that make children love books.