You exercise daily, working hard to keep your muscles strong, protect your heart, and stave off health conditions. But how often do you look for ways to keep your brain sharp? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think much about your brain health until it’s too late and you are facing the sobering reality of cognitive decline.
The truth is, brain atrophy isn’t inevitable. Alzheimer’s, dementia, and neurodegenerative disorders aren’t guaranteed. Performing brain maintenance now can keep your mental gears well-oiled as you age and allow you to live a vibrant life. Here’s how to achieve your 100 Year Heart and your 100 Year Brain.
13 ways to improve brain function
Protect your heart
Like most systems in the body, the health of your brain is dependent on the health of your heart. Prioritize your heart by living a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, avoiding toxins, and listening to your body.
Heart-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, AFib, and abnormal cholesterol levels can all lead to issues that directly harm the brain, such as stroke and heart failure.
When your heart is not pumping oxygenated blood to your brain effectively, the heart-brain link is disrupted, and your risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia increases.
Before you can begin improving your brain health, you must first take care of your heart.
Spend time with people
Being around your loved ones activates reward centers in your brain that boost your mental health and ward off stress, anxiety, depression, and dementia. Reach out to friends and family, schedule times to get together, and seek out those essential human connections.
Though a glass of wine every once in a while is fine (and can improve cognitive function), drinking in excess can be a fast track to mental decline. Protect your brain by limiting alcohol consumption.
Spend time in quiet reflection, focusing on your breathing and letting the day’s stressors fall away. This solitary time of self-reflection gives your brain a chance to slow down and can decrease brain inflammation that contributes to mental decline.
Make a sleep schedule and stick to it. Even on the weekends, when you don’t have to get up for work, try to go to bed and get up at the same time. Allowing your body to get into a sleep routine will help regulate melatonin production and improve sleep quality.
Stop using blue-light-emitting electronics at least a few hours before bed and create a cool, dark sleep environment. Quality rest allows your body to clear toxins from the brain, encode memories for long-term retention, and improve cognitive performance.
Puzzles and tabletop games aren’t just for the very old or young. Embrace the cognitive-boosting power of chess, a crossword puzzle, or a number puzzle like sudoku. Games such as these have been shown to boost mental clarity, improve brain function, and protect against cognitive decline.
Pick up a new instrument
It is never too late to learn something new. Download an online class or watch YouTube videos to help you pick up a simple instrument like the ukelele. Studies have shown that playing a musical instrument can strengthen connections between different brain areas and protect grey matter associated with memories, emotions, and movement.
Heal your gut
The gut and the brain are best friends — sharing secrets and gossipping about what is going on in your body. This communication, known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), is bidirectional communication between the central nervous system and the intestines.
When your gut isn’t healthy and balanced, nothing in your body is — including your brain. Studies have connected poor gut health to anxiety, depression, and cognition decline.
Support your gut microbiome and keep your brain sharp by eating probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, avoiding inflammatory foods, and considering taking a probiotic supplement.
Listen to music
While playing an instrument can increase coordination and stave off cognitive decline, listening to music supports mood, creates new pathways in the brain, and even restores long-forgotten memories associated with a particular song.
Eat brain-supportive foods
These delicious antioxidant-rich foods are full of essential nutrients that keep your brain functioning smoothly and boost memory capacity. Remember, always eat organic!
- Grass-fed beef
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
While adding these heart and brain-healthy foods to your diet is a significant step, sometimes what you don’t eat is even more critical. Cut out processed foods full of refined sugar, which can contribute to brain fog, mental decline, and mood swings.
Exercise is naturally protective for the brain, contributing to memory retention, improving emotional response, and warding off Alzheimer’s. Studies even suggest that exercise increases the levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which can lead to cognitive improvement and mental abilities.
Do what you love and whatever suits your physical fitness level. Try to aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intense physical activity each day. Exercising outdoors is always the best option as it boosts your vitamin D levels, helps regulate sleep, and provides stress-reducing benefits.
Try these new ways to get moving and get your brain engaged.
- Try dancing: We get it; not everyone is a fan of letting loose on the dance floor. But did you know that releasing your inhibitions through physical expression could improve your brain? Increase memory and cognitive speed by enrolling in a dance class, putting on some music and dancing around your house, or trying an exercise dance class like Zumba.
- Plant a garden: Looking after a garden is physically and mentally rewarding. Plant flowers, vegetables, herbs, or anything else that catches your interest and suits your climate. Gardening can improve concentration, mood, mental clarity, and brain health.
- Take up yoga or tai chi: It’s no secret that stress contributes to mental decline. Utilize the power of challenging yet relaxing exercises such as yoga or tai chi to protect the brain from the harmful effects of stress. Recenter your mental health, challenge your physical capabilities, and utilize the healing power of deep breathing to ward off neurodegenerative decline and keep your brain sharp.
Try something new
Taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill protects your brain in unique and interesting ways. Learning new things changes your brain and keeps it sharp — preventing mental degradation, improving memory, and activating motor skills.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Horseback riding
- Car repair
- DIY projects
- Knitting or crocheting
Learn a language
Try a language app like Duolingo to learn a few new vocabulary words each day. The cognitive benefits of bilingualism are well-researched. If you already speak a second language, make sure to practice regularly to retain the skill and sharpen your brain.
Your brain allows you to love, form memories, learn, breathe, and think. Isn’t it time to give it a little bit of attention? Protect this hard-working organ by incorporating these easy brain-healthy habits into your life. If you’re concerned about cognitive decline or want further support, consider our Neural Zoomer Plus test. This panel offers an expanded test to detect 48 of the most common autoantibodies associated with neurological autoimmunity and cognitive decline and includes a review with a Certified Natural Heart Doctor Health Coach.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD