We all know that as we age our brain health begins to decline. This is because of the natural wear and tear on the brain from years of use (and abuse).
When it comes to aging gracefully, the brain is one of the most important parts of our body that needs maintenance. The quality and efficiency of life, in general, depends on how well our brain does its job.
There are many things we can do to maintain and improve our brain health. In this article, we're going to give you 12 strategies for improving your brain health so you can stay sharp in your old age.
1. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is critical for brain health. REM sleep in particular is important for the consolidation of memories, which helps keep your memory sharp. Studies show that people who are well-rested have a better attention span and ability to learn new information.
How to improve your sleep habits:
- Stick to a bedtime schedule - go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This helps regulate your natural sleep cycles.
- Create a relaxing sleep environment - make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. Dimming the lights in your home or apartment can help reduce light pollution.
- Avoid screens for an hour before falling asleep - this includes TV, computer and phone screens.
- Take a hot bath before bed - bathing can reduce your stress levels. Pour some Epsom salts into the water to soothe your muscles and help you relax.
- Restrict caffeine intake late in the day, avoid drinking alcohol near bedtime and try not to eat large meals right before going to sleep.
- Consider investing in a white noise machine to help block out distracting noises. A white noise machine produces constant sound to help people sleep and block out distracting noises. White noise machines can include many different sounds like ocean waves, rainforest or even a lullaby of some sort.
- Invest in a good mattress - The quality of your sleep may be improved with a new mattress. Consider investing in one with cooling gel, memory foam or other features that can help you achieve the best night’s sleep possible.
2. Take fish oil
Studies have shown that taking Omega-three fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can help prevent cognitive decline. This is because DHA is vital for a healthy brain, and it helps stimulate the synapses in your hippocampus - which can help with memory recall.
Eat Omega-three fatty acids from fish, walnuts, or flaxseed oil. As mentioned above, this is important for brain health. The fats help prevent oxidative stress on your cells and nerves which can cause memory loss over time.
Fish oils are essential for brain health because they contain the omega-three DHA which helps prevent cognitive decline by stimulating synapses in your hippocampus - this helps with memory recall.
3. Eat leafy green vegetables
Leafy greens like spinach are rich in iron, Vitamin E (which protects against oxidative stress) as well as folate, all of which are important for brain health. Leafy greens also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Try to eat at least one serving - about two cups a day of leafy green vegetables in order to keep your memory sharp!
Some good choices are spinach, kale, collard greens or Swiss chard. You can also add a handful of spinach to your morning smoothie.
Recommended leafy greens
- Spinach - rich in iron, Vitamin E and folate. Lutein and zeaxanthin also protect against Alzheimer’s disease
- Kale - rich in vitamin K which improves blood flow to the brain
- Collard greens - high in magnesium which is important for nerve function
- Swiss Chard - a good source of vitamins A, C and K
- Romaine lettuce - rich in folate, vitamin B-12, calcium and potassium
- Arugula - rich in omega-three fatty acids
- Lettuce - low calorie yet high in Vitamin A which is important for eye health.
This list of leafy greens will help improve brain health by providing essential nutrients like iron, magnesium and lutein.
4. Eat fresh berries
Berries are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect your brain from free radicals that may cause oxidative stress. Blueberries are one of the best antioxidant-rich foods. They are also a good source of fibre, vitamin K (which is important for brain health) as well as manganese which can help with the absorption of nutrients in your diet.
Other types of antioxidant-rich berries include:
- Cranberries - These berries are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect your brain from free radicals that may cause oxidative stress.
- Raspberries - These berries are also a good source of antioxidants and fibre.
- Strawberries - Strawberries contain many different types of beneficial nutrients for the brain including magnesium, potassium (which helps with blood flow) as well as vitamin C and E.
- Goji berry - These are a good source of antioxidants and protein. They also contain tryptophan, which can help improve your mood!
5. Add medicinal mushrooms to your routine
Studies have shown that Lion’s Mane mushrooms to be a powerful brain booster and that they can help in treating neurodegenerative diseases. It has been found to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) which is important for the production of new neurons, as well as fight off free radicals which cause oxidative stress on cells.
Studies also show that Reishi mushrooms can also regulate levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This makes them a good option for those looking to improve their mood and combat depression.
Best ways to take medicinal mushroom extracts:
- Smoothies - Adding mushrooms extracts is a great addition to your morning smoothie.
- Tea - pour boiling water over the medicinal mushrooms and steep for 20 minutes.
- Coffee - Add mushroom extracts for a great crash-proof addition to your coffee.
- Broths - Mushrooms extracts can be boiled and then made into a broth.
For best results, medicinal mushroom extracts should be taken daily as a preventative measure.
Include lion’s mane mushrooms and reishi in your diet. These mushrooms have been found to be powerful brain boosters! Lion’s Mane has also been found effective in treating neurodegenerative diseases by
6. Drink green tea
Drinking at least two cups of green tea a day has been shown to help improve memory and brain function in elderly people who have cognitive impairment or dementia. This is because it contains high levels of catechins, which can increase blood flow to your brain.
One of the best ways to get catechins is by drinking Matcha, which is powdered and whisked with hot water - it’s delicious! You can find plenty of recipes for this online as well.
Another beneficial compound in green tea is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) which has been shown to help with cognitive function in a number of ways.
First, it helps stimulate the brain's production of BDNF - an important protein for neuronal growth and maintenance.
Second, EGCG is known to attack amyloid-beta plaques that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.
Lastly, it also helps improve the function of your hippocampus - which is a part of the brain that's responsible for memory.
7. Get a good exercise routine
It’s important for the brain to be able to rest and take a break from time to time, but that doesn't mean you should neglect exercise altogether. Studies have shown that people who get regular aerobic and strength training can improve their cognitive function, memory recall, and ability to learn new information.
Recommended aerobic or strength training exercises
- Indoor cycling classes - This class is a great way to get your heart pumping while providing an indoor workout.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) - This type of exercise can help you improve your memory and brain function by challenging them with new tasks or skills.
- Strength training - Weight lifting has been shown to promote good blood flow, which in turn helps protect against dementia and memory loss.
- Yoga - This is a great way to improve your balance, which can help with cognitive function in the long term. The benefits of yoga have been seen as far back as ancient times when it was used for spiritual purposes. It’s also helped reduce muscle tension or anxiety, which are both common causes of cognitive impairment.
- Zumba or other dance workouts - Dancing is a great way to improve your mental well-being, which can help with cognitive function in the long term.
- Outdoor biking on hilly terrain - This is a great way to improve your balance, which can help with cognitive function in the long term.
- Swimming laps at a leisurely pace - Swimming is a great way to improve your balance, which can help with cognitive function in the long term.
- Jogging outside on flat terrain Jogging has been found to be one of the best cardiovascular exercises when it comes to human health.
- Pilates Classes - Pilates has been shown to improve mobility, which can help with cognitive function in the long term.
- Bouldering - Bouldering is a great way to improve your balance, which can help with cognitive function in the long term.
8. Manage stress by practising mindfulness or meditation
Studies have shown that chronic exposure to the hormone cortisol can cause a significant decline in cognitive function and memory recall - so reducing stress is important for brain health! Ways of doing this are with meditation, getting enough sleep, or deep breathing exercises like Yoga Nidra.
Here's a simple and effective meditation technique:
- Sit in a comfortable position (sitting, lying on your back or side).
- Close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply for five minutes. Once you've found this rhythm, try counting as you breathe out. For example: One - breath out; Two - breath out; Three – Breath Out etc. It's important not to worry about how long the meditation is - this will take as long as it takes.
- If you have a mantra, choose one or make up your own based on something that's meaningful to you (This can be anything: The sound of waves crashing against shorelines; A song lyric).
- Repeat your mantra in time with your breathing.
- Count down from five, and when you reach one, pause for a moment before starting the process again.
9. Exercise your mind by challenging yourself with puzzles
Studies have found that mentally stimulating activities can help preserve one's mental sharpness over time because the brain becomes more efficient at processing information. One way of doing this is by challenging yourself with puzzles!
Types of challenging puzzles
- Crossword puzzles - these are great for promoting cognitive function and mental activity.
- Jigsaw puzzles - these can help you think in a more logical way, which is important for the development of good habits.
- Mazes or labyrinths - mazes have also been found to contribute positively to brain health by stimulating different parts of your mind as well as challenging spatial awareness.
- Mathematics puzzles - mathematics can be a challenging but very fun way to exercise your brain, which may help ward off cognitive decline later in life.
- Word searches - word searches are a great way to exercise your mind with words, which is important for cognitive function.
- Sudoku puzzles – Sudokus can help train our minds to think logically and solve problems systematically - this is vital in the prevention of dementia later on in life.
- Logic exercises - logic puzzles or games like chess can be good for the brain because they can promote new neural connections, which is important for cognitive function.
10. Stay socially connected
Social interactions help ward off loneliness which can lead to depression and anxiety. Social connections also improve cognitive function, so staying socially connected is important for brain health!
Ways to stay socially connected
- Join a local book club - research has shown that people who are engaged in reading books regularly have a lower risk of mental decline, as it provides stimulation and challenges the brain.
- Volunteer - volunteering is one way to meet new people from different backgrounds which can be good for improving social connections. It also increases empathy, self-esteem and happiness!
- Take part in a community sports team - not only is this good for physical health, but it's also a great way to make new friends.
- Take an online class like Skillshare or Coursera - these classes are a great way to keep your brain stimulated - they can also help with loneliness as you'll have the opportunity to make new friends in class.
- Visit family members you haven't seen in a while - spending time with loved ones can improve social connections.
- Say "hello" to a stranger - this is called initiating conversations! A study found that people who are shy or feel lonely often report feeling better after talking for just ten minutes with a stranger.
11. Quit smoking
Smoking cigarettes can have a number of adverse effects on cognition and memory recall - like impairing the ability to focus or pay attention. Studies show that people who smoke are more likely to develop dementia later in life than those who don't.
Ways to quit:
- Use a nicotine replacement therapy like gum, lozenge or nasal spray to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Get support from friends, family members, or join a quit smoking program. Organizations like the American Cancer Society offer resources for quitting every day of the week!
- Consider trying hypnotherapy - which is shown to be more effective than other methods.
- Make a plan for your quit day. Use this time to reflect on the benefits of quitting and think about ways you'll reduce temptations or stay away from triggers.
- Get plenty of sleep - studies have shown that people who get enough sleep are less likely to relapse into smoking.
Quitting smoking can be hard, but it's not impossible!
12. Practice gratitude daily
Positivity can help ward off anxiety and depression, which are both linked to cognitive decline. Studies show that practising gratitude regularly can make one happier and improve their mood - as well as other aspects of cognition like memory recall.
How to practice gratitude
- Take time to write down three things you are grateful for every day. Do this with the people around you - then share what they're grateful for and why.
- Keep a "gratitude journal" of past events in your life that have made an impact on you, or think about something someone has done for which you feel thankful.
- Practice positive self-talk to ward off negative thoughts. This includes talking to yourself in a way that promotes confidence and optimism.
With these twelve strategies, you will be well on your way to improving your mental and physical health! Practice gratitude daily by appreciating the things in life that make it worth living.
Remember, if you take good care of yourself mentally and physically now, then when times get tough down the road-you'll have a lot more reserves to rely on!