If you’re looking to improve your memory, enhance your cognitive function and reduce your risk of dementia, there are lots of healthy brain habits you can practice every day to keep your brain as healthy as possible. Here are seven habits that enhance brain health.
1) Exercise every day
Getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week has lots of benefits for brain health. It improves blood flow, reduces inflammation, stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, slows the onset of dementia, and improves the brain’s neuroplasticity (its ability to form new connections.)
If you don’t have large blocks of time to exercise, you can break up the 150 minutes into 10- or 15-minute blocks that easily fit into your day. If you’re a dog owner, there’s good news for you! Research has shown that dog owners get 22 more minutes of exercise a day than non-dog owners.
2) Follow a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on fresh produce, lentils, fish, nuts, and seeds, and its primary fat source is olive oil. It minimizes dairy, meat, simple carbs, and processed foods. This eating style has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. And it’s also been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline and dementia.
In addition, a 2016 study found that following the Mediterranean Diet had the same effect as taking 5 years off the brain’s age. People who adhered to this healthy eating plan also had improved memory and enhanced executive function, which made them better able to focus, plan, multitask and remember instructions.
3) Get plenty of Vitamin D
To keep your brain as healthy as possible, make sure you’re getting plenty of Vitamin D. Vitamin D protects the brain’s neurons, reduces inflammation, and activates enzymes that are involved in synthesizing neurotransmitters and promoting nerve growth.
You can raise your Vitamin D levels by spending time in the sunshine, increasing your intake of Vitamin-D-rich foods like salmon and eggs, or by taking a supplement.
4) Eat fewer refined carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and bleached flour cause inflammation that can lead to diabetes, obesity, and arterial dysfunction, which all have a detrimental effect on brain health. In fact, a study of elderly patients found that those who got 58% or more of their calories from carbohydrates had double the risk of dementia compared to their counterparts who ate fewer carbs. Skip the refined sugar in carbohydrates and enjoy natural sugar. Spring fruits like strawberries are one of the lowest glycemic index fruits because they are relatively low in sugar and high in fiber.
5) Make time to meditate
Meditation is another healthy habit that promotes brain health. Meditation has been shown to enlarge the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for concentration, awareness, and decision making.
A Harvard study found that people who meditated daily for eight weeks had a measurable increase in their hippocampus, which controls learning and memory. They also had a decrease in their amygdala, which is responsible for anxiety, stress, and fear.
6) Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for cognitive function and mental health.
A study of 17,000 participants found that people who were overweight or obese had reduced cerebral blood flow compared to participants who were underweight or normal weight.
Decreased cerebral blood flow is the primary imaging predictor that someone will develop Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also been linked to higher rates of addiction, suicidality, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
7) Get plenty of sleep
Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal brain health. This is because, during sleep, the brain goes into “housekeeping” mode and cleans away toxins that accumulate in the brain during the day. Also, people who are well-rested have better fine motor skills, cognitive function, and memory recall than their tired counterparts. Knowing how to sleep better will always make the next day more productive.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant