Many things in life are out of our control but fortunately, brain health isn’t one of those things. Did you know it’s possible to actually improve your brain’s performance from the inside out?
Making the decision to appreciate, protect and nourish your brain with knowledge, nutrition and self-love will lead to a healthier brain — and a healthy brain is a happy brain. Take control of these 10 factors to start improving your brain health today.
Eat more healthy fats.
For many years, “fats” got a bad rap. But not anymore! It turns out, your brain needs these healthy fats for optimal cognitive functioning. Consume foods that are rich in Omega-3s, such as walnuts, avocados, flaxseeds, soybeans, canola oil or olive oil, and fortified eggs. However, fish is the ultimate source for this essential fat. Don’t like seafood? Talk to your physician about taking fish oil supplements instead.
Get your blood flowing. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your brain health. Engaging in aerobic exercise improves the health of brain tissue by increasing blood flow throughout your brain. Exercise also initiates the development of new nerve cells and strengthens the connection between existing brain cells.
Challenge yourself daily.
Mental activity increases the flow of blood, nutrients and oxygen to your brain. Staying cognitively engaged and activating different parts of your brain can help protect your brain against dementia. You may want to consider formal education or a leisure activity that involves mental stimulation, such as learning a new language, playing an instrument or taking a dance class. Activities such as writing poetry, doing a crossword puzzle or playing a board game can also be beneficial for your brain.
Get more sleep.
The average adult requires approximately 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Now, I know what you’re thinking… Is sleep really that crucial for brain health? Absolutely. While you sleep, your glymphatic system cleans up any buildup of a byproduct called adenosine in your brain. Denying your body some much-needed sleep will result in a buildup of this waste, which can negatively impact your memory, attention, mood and processing speed. Insufficient sleep also results in a higher risk for dementia, stroke and cognitive decline.
So, there you go — your perfect excuse to hit snooze tomorrow morning.
Always think positive.
Managing stress and reducing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) can improve your brain health. Research links negative thinking to increased effects of stress, low mood and accelerated cellular aging. To keep your brain healthy, find ways to manage stress and keep your thoughts positive.
Surround yourself with the right support.
Family and community support are critical in your quest for improved brain health. Surrounding yourself with individuals who exude positivity, maintain an active lifestyle and consume a healthy diet will encourage you to maintain a similar brain-healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a strong social circle (especially as we age) provides sources of support, reduces depression and promotes intellectual stimulation. Research suggests that individuals with strong social connections experience the slowest rate of memory decline. Make an effort to connect with others and find regular social activities that you enjoy.
Know your “why.”
Find your purpose and use that to propel you forward in life. The Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, conducted a study assessing purpose in life and brain health. The researchers discovered that people who had a greater sense of purpose in life had a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s not always easy to know your purpose, but take a minute to think about what motivates you, what excites you and what brings meaning to your day.
Limit risky habits.
Excessive alcohol consumption is known to have a negative long-term impact on the brain, potentially leading to memory loss, learning difficulty and other forms of cognitive impairment. It is recommended that you limit your alcohol consumption and avoid “binge drinking” to reduce your risk for long-term cognitive changes. Smoking also accelerates aging of your brain and is associated with a higher risk of dementia, cognitive decline and stroke.
The good news is that it is never too late to take steps to improve your brain health. Your brain is a dynamic organ that is constantly adapting and changing. The first step to improved brain health is recognizing that it is within your control. Make brain healthy decisions today for a healthier and happier brain today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life.
About the author
Donna Noorbakhsh is a speech language pathologist and certified brain injury specialist on staff at the Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation – Dallas Day Neuro Clinic.