7 Lifestyle Tips for Brain Health

By Madhavi Gupta, MD


With a clearer brain, you can handle all the demands of your life. That means more energy and focus to accomplish your day-to-day tasks more effectively. And you’ll also experience a better memory, and a stable mood.

For your kids, better cognitive function means more focus and energy, which means they’re better with problem-solving, flexible thinking, memory retention, and schoolwork. And a better mood means fewer meltdowns.

Here are 7 Tips to boost your brain power.

1. Exercise

We know that exercise is good for cardiovascular, metabolic, and muscular and bone health. But exercise is also one of the best ways to maintain and improve brain health. It ​​improves blood flow to the brain, reduces inflammation, and lowers cortisol levels — all of which play a role in cognitive function.

Exercise promotes neurogenesis, which is the growth new brain cells. Exercise helps grow neurons particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to be the center of memory and emotional function.

Various studies show that running, swimming, yoga, biking, and dancing all increase neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is essential in the regulation of brain cells, including their growth, maintenance, and maturation.

 

2. Whole Foods

Eating a whole foods, plant-dense diet can help reduce cognitive decline. Here are a few super brain foods:

Leafy greens, such as kale, chard, and spinach, are nutrient-dense, and include folate, vitamin K, beta carotene, vitamin E, and more. These nutrients can help improve cognition. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can have effects on cognitive performance during aging (1). 

Egg are one of the best sources of choline. Choline is known to promote memory and communication between cells. It supports the proper functioning of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. 

Blueberries are the top berry to improve concentration. Berries, such as blueberries, are associated with improved mental and cognitive health in older adults (2). They contribute essential nutrients to the body, including vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and phytonutrients. This, in turn, helps stimulate blood flow and oxygen in the brain.

Salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for neuro-development and brain function. In particular, salmon is high in DHA and EPA.

In a series of studies published in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapies, researchers found that supplementing with 1.5 - 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day led to a marked improvement in mood issues in adults and children (3).

Walnuts have been shown to have positive effects on brain health. In addition to their protection against oxidative stress, walnuts may also decrease the risk or progression of other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and depression (4).

Grass-fed Beef is a great source of vitamins B6 and B12, which are involved in forming and maintaining healthy nerve and red blood cells. Research suggests that deficiencies in these vitamins may impair cognitive performance and lead to difficulty maintaining balance, depression, confusion, dementia, and poor memory (5).

You may be wondering, “What about saturated fat? I’ve heard it’s ‘bad’ for you.” Despite what you may have been led to believe, saturated fat is a fundamental building block for brain cells and is vitally important for preserving brain health. One Mayo Clinic study found that among over 900 Americans with an average age of 80, participants with the highest saturated fat intake experienced a 36% decrease in their risk for developing cognitive decline (6).

Coffee is one of the world’s most consumed drinks. Research reports estimate that moderate coffee consumption may lower the risk of cognitive impairment by as much as 20% (7). In one study, researchers found that folks who consumed 3-5 (six-ounce) cups of coffee daily had a 65% decreased risk of developing cognitive decline (8).

Although caffeine has been implicated as the active component driving risk reduction of cognitive decline, coffee also contains a variety of other bioavailable and potentially therapeutic phytochemicals. Coffee is chemically complex, consisting of more than 1,000 different compounds, including the coffee-specific lipidic diterpenes cafestol and kahweol, polyphenols, and antioxidants. So it may be you can get similar brain benefits from decaffeinated coffee. (9)

 

3. Cognitive Exercise

Cognitive “exercises” that can have brain health benefits include “brain games,” reading, learning a new language, or learning a musical instrument. According to neurologist and neuroscientist Dr. Majid Fotuhi, challenging your brain — whether through completing a daily crossword puzzle, playing cards or board games, or learning a new word every day — can help to stimulate your brain and give it a “workout,” similar to the way we workout our muscles when we exercise.

 

4. Meditation

Research shows that meditation increases theta and alpha waves, (10) which boost creativity and put you “in the zone” for focus and better problem-solving skills. Meditation is also shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that manages higher order brain function, like concentration and decision-making.

  

5. Take care of your gut

Researchers have found that your gut health can influence your thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, memories, and overall mental function (11). Therefore, your gut health is directly related to your brain health, and both need to be optimized to perform at their best. 

Building and maintaining the proper amount of beneficial bacteria (i.e., probiotics) is crucial for several reasons, and this area of science is considered by many to be the next frontier of research. Once in the gut, probiotics are free to colonize and spread their health-boosting functions.

It’s a good idea to consume 1- 2 servings of probioticrich foods daily, including the following traditionally fermented options:

      • Dairy with live, active cultures (e.g., yogurt, kefir)
      • Fermented vegetables (e.g., pickles sauerkraut, kimchi)
      • Tempeh, miso, soy sauce
      • Kombucha tea
      • Probiotic supplements

 

6. Listen to music

Listening to music can improve memory. Singing and dancing to a song helps cognitive functions. Some studies show that listening to music while engaged in complex cognitive tasks can impair performance (12).

 

7. Get social

Developing social connections is a fundamental need among humans that can enhance brain health and even improve memory. A few studies showed that social interaction increased episodic memory and an increase in hippocampal volume (13).


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