Improve brain health following these 10 Tips
10 Ways to Improve Brain Functioning (Part 1)
One of the most frequent questions we are asked at A Mind For All Seasons is, “How do I keep my brain healthy and active?”. With Alzheimer’s cases on the rise, people everywhere have noticed an increase in the number of articles, blog posts, videos, books, commercials and interviews about things that can boost brain functioning and cut your risk of developing dementia. With so much out there, it is easy to get overwhelmed and fail to make progress, so we decided to simplify what the research has shown and provide ten key things you can do. We encourage you to start with one thing on the list and work at it until you have improved in that area. Then, one by one, add others until you have transformed your lifestyle into one that helps you improve brain health.
A well-researched place to begin is increasing your level of physical activity. Many people focus on exercise as a way to lose weight or improve their joints, but one of the most important results of exercise is an increase in a hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a growth factor that stimulates the production of new brain cells. Whether you like to swim, do aerobics, hike, ride a bicycle, walk briskly, play sports, run, or do yoga, moving your body will boost the amount of BDNF your body creates. Schedule time for yourself to get 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity 4 to 5 times a week- your brain will thank you for it!
One of the biggest and most controversial factors in brain functioning is diet. There is no shortage of opinions about what we should and should not be eating, and cutting through the clutter of advice can be frustrating. What foods improve brain functioning? The answer is less about specific foods to add or avoid and more about principles of brain healthy eating. Alzheimer’s disease is nicknamed ‘diabetes of the brain’ because 50 to 80% of people living with Alzheimer’s have insulin resistance that makes it difficult for their brains to use sugar as fuel. They may crave sugar and eat a lot of it, but if their bodies ignore insulin signaling, they will be overfed and undernourished and incapable of producing the energy their minds need. A brain healthy diet is high in good fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and low in sugar, including sugar from breads, pasta, potatoes and rice. Dark leafy greens and other vegetables are also essential ingredients in a brain healthy diet.
Sleep is the next thing ingredient to a brain healthy lifestyle. 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep are essential to cognitive health, so make getting some zzzz’s a high priority. Make sure you get tested for sleep apnea if you snore, are overweight, or consistently wake up after 8 hours feeling exhausted.
Hormones should not be overlooked if you are trying to protect your brain. Sex hormones like testosterone and estradiol, along with neurological hormones like pregnenolone and DHEA, are essential to brain functioning. Be sure to consult with a qualified healthcare professional to understand the role that hormones play in brain health and consider what you can do to optimize your hormones.
Recent research shows that social activity is protective of the brain. As humans, we desperately need social connections and tend to do poorly in isolation, so be sure to plan opportunities to be with people. Join a club, invite family or friends over, attend a class, go to a concert, or find other opportunities to be with people. Doing so ensures that you are activating language and auditory processing centers in the brain, stimulating the perception of emotional cues, and other mental processes.
There are several other things you can do to improve brain functioning, so don’t miss the continuation of 10 Ways to Improve Brain Functioning series!