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8 easy ways to boost your brain health

| Healthy You

Four people happily playing a card game

Keeping your brain healthy is essential to living a long and healthy life.

Use it or lose it—your brain, that is. Our brain changes with age, and mental function changes along with it. Mental decline is typical, and it’s one of the most feared consequences of aging. But cognitive impairment is not inevitable. Keeping your brain healthy is essential for living a long and full life. The following eight tips are easy ways to keep your brain healthy and functioning well.

Stay mentally active

Studies have shown that “brainy activities” stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, develop neurological “plasticity,” and build up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss.

Reading, playing cards, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, playing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or completing word searches are easy ways of boosting memory and focus. Experiment with things that require manual dexterity and mental efforts, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts. Try using your non-dominant hand for things like brushing teeth or eating. Incorporate different activities to increase the effectiveness and don’t watch too much television, as that is a passive activity that does little to stimulate your brain. 

Exercise regularly

High-intensity and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise are not just good for your heart. They’re also good for your brain. Exercise improves your mood and cardiac function, reduces stress, and makes you more mentally alert. You don’t need much activity to make a difference. 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-paced aerobic activity like walking, cycling or swimming multiple times a week has been shown to have positive long-term cognitive impacts. Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating healthy—lots of fruit, vegetables, healthy oils, fish and minimizing junk food and fatty meats—is critical for brain health. Vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and some berries, improve memory and overall brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (and some grains) help prevent inflammation, preserve cognitive function, and prevent depression, stress and anxiety. Protein contains high levels of amino acids, which in turn cause neurons to produce neurotransmitters associated with mental alertness. The Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, and MIND diet have all shown a positive impact on cognition and healthy brain functioning. 

Get plenty of sleep

Poor sleep is one of the biggest causes of reduced concentration and memory functioning. Scientists believe that sleep helps clear abnormal proteins in your brain and consolidates memories, boosting your overall memory and brain health. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly to benefit and perform at their cognitive peak each day. When possible, try to get consecutive hours of sleep per night, not fragmented sleep of two- or three-hour increments. Getting consecutive hours gives your brain the time to consolidate and store your memories effectively. Read more on healthy sleep.

Improve your blood pressure and cholesterol

High blood pressure increases the risk of cognitive decline. High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Simple lifestyle modifications will help keep your blood pressure as low as possible and cholesterol at an appropriate level. Diet, exercise, weight control, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco will go a long way toward improving both. If you need help making changes to support a healthier lifestyle, ask your doctor.

Maintain low blood sugar levels

Diabetes is a significant risk factor for dementia. Like lowering your blood pressure or controlling cholesterol, you can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. Maintaining your blood sugar levels will also help with sugar crashes, which can cause brain fogginess.

Care for your emotions

Stress can affect mood, memory and promote anxiety. Engaging in weekly stress reduction exercises will improve your overall sense of calm. Intermittent and long-term stress impacts the brain negatively and has even been linked to inflammation and chronic illness. Learn how to stress less. Consider an appointment with a mental health provider if you need more support.

Build social networks

Positive relationships can be just as meaningful as nutrition and physical activity to our health and well-being. Maintaining a strong social network can contribute to a longer, healthier life. Look for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends and others, especially if you live alone. Consider joining church or community events, volunteering, or becoming active in a club or cause you’re interested in. Research links solitary confinement to brain atrophy, so remaining socially active may have the opposite effect and strengthen the health of your brain.

Finally, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider if you’re concerned about your brain health or memory loss.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health