Your brain is what makes you you. So doesn’t it deserve some special care? If you’re diligent about diet and exercise but aren’t paying attention to cognitive health, it’s time to change that. Here are the seven best things you can do to improve your brain health.
Get Quality Sleep
If you read our previous post on sleep, you probably already know that cognitive function suffers when you’re sleep-deprived, making it harder to think clearly and regulate emotions. Sleep is also when your brain processes memories and does its deep cleaning, flushing protein fragments that could contribute to dementia. For better sleep, practice good sleep hygiene, and maintain an active lifestyle. People with good habits who struggle to get quality rest may have a sleep disorder.
Watch Your Stress
Stress does more than ruin your day. It also damages your brain. That’s especially true of chronic stress and anxiety, which impair memory and cause brain shrinkage. Stress and anxiety can be managed through exercise, relaxation techniques, and mental health treatment. We recently posted about measuring and managing stress, and some people find success reducing anxiety with cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound derived from hemp, but consumers should research reputable brands before trying this product.
Seek New Experiences
Like with physical fitness, one of the best ways to maintain brain fitness is to use it. The brain grows accustomed to your usual activities, so challenge it by trying new things. In addition to new hobbies and lifelong learning, challenge your brain in little ways, like brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand.
Protect Your Head
Many of us grew up believing concussions aren’t a big deal, but even minor brain injuries can cause serious and long-lasting effects. While accidents happen and not every head trauma is preventable, it’s important to protect your head whenever possible. Avoid contact sports and physical altercations, and wear helmets during sports to avoid more severe brain injuries. If you do get a concussion, seek medical treatment immediately. If you search "concussion" in the search box at the top of this page, you will find numerous posts to continue reading on this topic.
Eat Brain Food
You don’t have to adopt a special diet to improve brain health. You should, however, be sure to get plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and fish, while minimizing intake of saturated fats and highly-processed foods. In addition to these guidelines, researchers recommend drinking no more than a moderate amount of alcohol, as excessive drinking accelerates aging of the brain. You can read more about feeding your brain in our article titled "Eating your Way out of Cognitive Decline".
Nurture Your Gut
A balanced diet is good for your gut too — and that’s good for your brain! The gut microbiome, or the collection of bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal system, works with your brain to produce important neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. When bad bacteria outweigh the good, researchers believe it contributes to mood problems and mental illness. To give your gut health an extra boost, add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet. You can read more on the Gut-Brain relationship here.
Exercise helps you sleep and manage stress, so it should come as no surprise that it’s good for your brain. But did you know that exercise also stimulates the production of new brain cells, strengthens neural synapses, and releases hormones that improve memory function? If that’s not a good reason to get moving, we don’t know what is. If you’re not already active, start with light aerobic activity a few days per week. In time, you’ll develop the ability to push your body further and try new things. Click here to read on about how you can use the Brain Gauge to measure brain changes when you start adding exercise into your daily life.
As you can see, many of the best things you can do for your brain are also good for your whole body. That means you don’t have to make major changes to protect your brain. Simply by looking after your physical and mental health every day, you can protect your brain for life.