If we could open our skulls and take a peek in, the sight would not be attractive. Yet the brain, the seat of thought, action, memory, emotion and experience, and the way it functions, is nothing short of a miracle.
The good news is that although the brain ages like the rest of our bodies, with the correct lifestyle choices of food, exercise and stimulation, the brain can continue to bloom and flourish.
Food For Thought
• VITAMIN E: Vegetables are not only great for your waistline but are also essential for good brain function thanks to vitamin E which is thought to boost mental ability, ward off premature ageing and protect brain cells from oxidative damage. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, asparagus and broccoli are a great source of vitamin E.
Alternatively, eat a small handful of nuts such as cashew nuts, peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts which are also rich in Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is also found in olive oil. One easy way of introducing olive oil in your diet is by mixing 1 teaspoon of olive oil in your salad bowl. Olive oil is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an where Allah (SWT) takes an oath by the olive tree:
“By the fig and the olive. By Mount Sinai. By this city of security. Verily, We created man in the best stature.” (At-Teen: 1-4)
Research has proven the medicinal and health properties of foods that are mentioned in the Qur’an.
• OMEGA 3: Omega 3 is vital for developing and maintaining the brain. It contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, a bit of a mouthful to pronounce!) which helps to stimulate brain cell growth. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are a great source of Omega 3. Fish also has an anti-inflammatory effect which helps to protect brain cells from damage. Two portions a week is ideal but even one portion a week will make a difference. Dr Lisa Lewis, founder of The Optimal Health Institute in Washington, D.C. says: “The neurons, the basic building blocks of the brain, are made up of fats and neurological tissue (what we would call white or grey matter). If the sheath doesn’t have enough fat or essential fatty acids it can’t protect the brain and enable neurons to communicate effectively with one another. Omega-3 fatty acids improve brain health and memory and sharpen the mind.”
Train Your Brain
Research has shown that memorising portions of texts helps to boost memory and what better text is there to memorise than the Holy Qur’an? In this way you will also gain reward from Allah (SWT) every time you recite the verse.
Mental stimulation is essential for keeping the mind healthy and improving memory. Clinical psychologist Ron Bracey suggests using techniques such as puzzles and crosswords which create different pathways in the brain. So when you have an hour to spare try boosting your brain power with mental activities such as sudoku and scrabble.
Give it a Workout
Physical exercise has a profound effect on the brain and is even better for the mind then mental exercises. Simple exercises such as walking have a startling effect on the memory according to research conducted by the Franklin Institute: “When the cognitive abilities of elderly women were compared, those who walked regularly were less likely to experience age-related memory loss and other decline in mental function.”
Exercise also improves mental health and keeps anxiety at bay for several hours after training.
Get Enough Sleep
Having a good night’s sleep will help you to wake up in a good mood whilst your mind will be fresh and alert. In fact, according to the latest sleep research women need an hour’s more sleep than men! Sleep is beneficial for a variety of reasons and is linked to the memory and learning.
Following a routine which involves waking and sleeping at the same time every day will lead to a healthier lifestyle and a better, more active brain.
NURTURE YOUR SOUL TO NURTURE YOUR MIND
The Prophet (SAW) taught that “Your body has a right over you.” (Bukhari)
It is the right of our body that we take care of it. This entails that we work for optimal mental and physical health.
For physical strength and energy:
• Seek Allah’s forgiveness & repent often (Hud: 52);
• Recite Takbeer, Tasbeeh & Tahmeed 34, 33 & 33 times before sleeping (Bukhari);
• Do not eat excessively (Al-A’raf: 31);
• Standing up for prayer at night (Bukhari and Muslim);
• Eating meat (Medicine of the Prophet);
• Smelling perfume (Medicine of the Prophet);
• Taking frequent baths (Medicine of the Prophet).
Imam Shafi is quoted in Medicine of the Prophet (SAW) to have said that four things sharpen the power of the mind:
• avoiding unnecessary speech;
• using siwak;
• sitting with righteous people;
• sitting with the scholars.
For improvement of memory:
• Leaving sins (Maalik Ibn Anas- Al-Jaami);
• Frequent Adhkaar (Surah Kahf: 24);
• Drinking honey (Medicine of the Prophet);
• Eating raisins (Imam Al-Zuhri- Al-Jaami).
It is easy for women to become lax about their physical and mental health amidst the chaotic world of rearing children and fulfilling the demands of home and career, yet women are the foundation of a healthy family. Our health is essential for our family’s wellbeing, so we need to aim to eliminate habits that stagnate the mind and body and adopt those that stimulate the mind. Varying our reading, adopting new hobbies and trying out something that is a little outside of our comfort zone every now and then will go a long way to ensuring that we reach the autumns of our lives as strong, intelligent and contributing Muslimahs of society.