6 Steps to Boosting Your Brain Health
Are you having a harder time remembering things, staying focused on a certain task, or thinking clearly? You could be suffering from an inflamed brain. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to boost your brain health.
Your brain is often referred to as the “control center” of your body. Beyond helping you to think, remember, and act clearly, your brain helps to regulate the rest of your body, like your breathing, temperature, hunger, and hormones. It’s important to keep your brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible to slow cognitive decline and stave off chronic—often uncurable—diseases like Alzheimer’s. By supporting the six pillars of brain health, you can boost your brain's functioning.
The health of your brain is influenced by six fundamental pillars:
Sleep and relaxation
Medications and supplements
Food and nutrition
As you can see from the list, boosting your brain health involves many aspects of your daily life. In this blog, we’ll go through each one of these pillars of brain health before diving deeper into specific and actionable strategies surrounding food and nutrition. For an effective start, pick the pillar that is the easiest place for you to begin and then take the simplest first step in that area.
Step 1: Exercise for brain health
If there's only one thought for you to take away from this blog, this is it: Exercise is a magic bullet when it comes to your brain health! Exercise is incredibly beneficial for physical and mental fitness, to de-stress, improve sleep, as well as keep your heart, lungs, and muscles healthy. What’s more, being physically active is a fundamental pillar of brain health. There are several types of exercise, and all are beneficial.
Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio” or “endurance” exercise, helps to get your heart rate up and your muscles warm. Examples of aerobic exercises include biking, swimming, running, and climbing stairs. This type of exercise benefits your brain because it helps to preserve existing brain cells and also promotes the growth of new ones.
Another type of exercise is strength or “resistance” training such as pushing or pulling weights or other heavy objects (like groceries). This is known to help build and maintain strong bones. Strength training also helps your brain by enhancing your concentration and improving your decision-making skills.
Step 2: Stress reduction for brain health
While stress is a part of everyone's life. Chronic stress that is not addressed can have detrimental effect on your body and mind. In fact, chronic stress can effectively shrink the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning (your “prefrontal cortex”) and can increase the part of your brain that is receptive to stress (your “amygdala”). Once the threat is gone, however, the stress response relaxes, and your body and brain can regain their normal (“low/no stress”) balance. However, when that stress lingers on for days, weeks, and months (or longer), it becomes long-term or “chronic” stress. It’s this type of stress that can negatively impact your brain.
While you can't eliminate stress entirely, you can learn effective techniques to better manage it and preserve your brain health. One very practical—but often difficult—strategy is to “just say no” to things you don’t actually have to do or to things you truly don't have the time to take on. Saying no to certain things or turning down unnecessary projects may help reduce the amount of stress you feel. A helpful way to gauge whether or not you should say "yes" or "no" to something is to ask yourself:
How will I feel about saying "yes" to this request in 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days, 10 months?
If you know you won't feel good about saying "yes", then "no" or "not at this time" may be your best response.
Another strategy to reduce stress is to take a step back regarding the specific problem at hand. Perspective - and a few deep breaths - can help you to see your current situation more clearly, enabling you to make better decisions and avoid turning it into an unmanageably large issue.
Additionally, calming the mind through meditation or guided imagery can help reduce the feelings of stress by refocusing your attention on something positive and soothing.
Step 3: Sleep for brain health
Getting your 7-9 hours of sleep each night helps your mood and ability to manage stress. Sleep also allows you to be better able to plan and run your busy life to ensure that you have the energy to do what you need to do to maintain and improve your well-being - including the five other pillars of brain health ;).
One of the most important things you can do to get enough sleep is to foster a regular sleep schedule. By going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day—including weekends and when you’re traveling—you “train” your body and brain to get on a healthy sleep schedule.
Another strategy to help you get more sleep is to create a relaxing bedtime routine. Your bedtime routine can start an hour (or more) before you need to sleep and can include things like dimming lights, putting your screens away (no more TV, internet, or smart phones), listening to soothing music or a guided meditation, reading a book, or having a warm relaxing bath. Ultimately, whatever helps you get your sleep is going to also help your brain.
Step 4: Socialization
Staying connected to a network of people you care about can help reduce stress, improve mood, and help to feel more supported in life. Your social network can include your spouse and/or partner, immediate and extended family members, friends, or others in your community.
You can socialize informally or spontaneously (like walking or chatting with a neighbor) or you can join organized activities like hobby groups, sports teams, or volunteering opportunities. The brain benefits of socializing even extend beyond people to pets. Studies show that pets can help you feel calm, improve your health, and enhance your social life, all of which can benefit your brain.
Step 5: Food and nutrition for brain health
What's on your plate can be a powerful tool to boost your brain health.
There are several foods and nutrients that promote a healthy brain by slowing cognitive decline and reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. University researchers developed the MIND diet to emphasize foods that are rich in antioxidants and critical brain nutrients such as vitamins and other plant-based phytochemicals.
Here a few of the key foods and nutrients you can add to your plate to boost your brain health:
Omega-3 fatty acids