What do hockey, skiing, and soccer have in common? As the top three recreational sports in Canada, they’re also the top sources of concussion.
Playing sports is great for the body, but when care is taken to reduce the risk of concussion, it’s even better for the brain. Regular exercise makes you sharper, builds brain cells in areas critical for memory and reasoning and helps with well-being, stress management, and sleep. It makes your brain more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease, age-related cognitive decline, and other neurological conditions.
So how can you make sure you keep reaping the positive benefits of exercise and reduce the chance of concussion when playing your favourite sport?
While some concussions can’t be avoided, there are things you can do to reduce the risk and shorten recovery times if it should happen to you. First, it’s important to build resilience. People whose brains are functioning at peak capacity recover better from injury.
Some strategies for a better brain include:
- Keep cognitively active through work and hobbies to maintain sharpness. If things feel too easy, step up the difficulty level or try something new.
- Learn to control your stress because it depletes your brain’s resilience and efficiency over time, and can distract you, making you more prone to injury.
- Prioritize sleep because it restores your cognitive efficiency and helps you react more quickly in a game or in a demanding sport.
- Eat like an athlete, even if you are a weekend warrior (e.g., avoid sugar and processed foods, which in excess and over the long-term reduce your brain’s overall health).
For concussion prevention, before you play:
- Make sure you are rested, hydrated and alert, so that your reaction time and reflexes are at peak levels. If you are tired when you play, your reaction time will be slower, increasing the risk of injury.
- Take breaks to recharge your alertness and speed during the game.
- Don’t play under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication that affects alertness (e.g., sleeping pills, or some medications for pain, anxiety or depression).
- Avoid playing in the evening or night time when alertness and visibility are not optimal.
- Let your body fully recover from injury before returning to play. Being slowed down physically can impact your ability to react quickly and increase the risk of concussion.
- Never play if you are still feeling the effects of a previous concussion, no matter how mild.
- Before you play, get baseline tested; this way, if you do get a concussion, your health providers can get you on the right track for recovery and ensure that you can return to play as soon as possible after concussion.
For more information on how to concussion-proof your brain and to find out more about concussion baseline testing, contact the Brain Health program at your nearest Copeman Healthcare Centre.