10 Ways to Support Brain Health
As people age, their brains change, and cognitive decline is a common fear associated with aging. However, mental impairment doesn’t have to be inevitable. There are many things we can do to keep our brains healthy and the mind sharp. Follow these 10 tips to support brain health!
1. Watch Blood Pressure Levels for Brain Health
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that risk factors that are usually associated with vascular health – like smoking, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI) – are also risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (1)
What’s more, the researchers found that the more vascular risk factors a person has, the greater the association with poor brain health. There were connections between vascular risk factors and brain atrophy and the loss of both gray and white brain matter. (1)
However, most of these risk factors are somewhat changeable. Individuals have some influence over improving them. (1)
The researchers identified high blood pressure as one of the three main vascular risk factors that are also associated with cognitive decline. The other two are smoking and diabetes. So it’s important to keep an eye on blood pressure levels. Individuals should check their blood pressure regularly and note any increases, even small ones. If blood pressure levels are high or increasing, implementing tips 2 through 5 may help bring them to a healthier level. (1, 2)
2. Exercise Regularly for Brain Health
When people hear advice to get plenty of exercise, they usually think about the effects it will have on their body but don’t consider how it can benefit their brain. But a group of researchers who reviewed studies on exercise and cognition concluded that working out can actually improve brain health. (3)
The researchers learned that exercise can support brain health throughout a person’s life, from childhood through late adulthood. They found that older adults who exercise regularly benefit from improved executive functioning. This includes brain processes like multitasking, planning, and inhibition. They also found that regular aerobic exercise increases brain activity and improves communication along brain networks. Additionally, older adults who exercise routinely may also experience an increase in the volume of both white and gray matter in their brains. (3)
To take advantage of all of the brain health benefits of aerobic exercise, try to get 150 minutes of exercise each week. That can mean 50 minutes of exercise on three days, 30 minutes on five days, or 25 minutes on six days. There are many different ways to participate in aerobic activity. Walking, swimming, gardening, tennis, and ballroom dancing are just a few examples. (2, 3)
3. Build Muscle for Brain Health
In the same review where researchers found an association between aerobic exercise and brain health, they also learned that strength training has benefits for cognition. The researchers found a connection between regular moderate to high-intensity resistance training and improved memory performance, verbal concept formation, selective attention, and conflict resolution performance in older adults. (3)
Those looking for the cognitive benefits of strength training should perform this type of exercise at a moderate to high-intensity level three times a week. Different forms of strength training include using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises. (3)
4. Eat a Healthy Diet for Brain Health
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to avoid vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high Body Mass Index (BMI), which researchers have found to be associated with poor brain health. Try eating a diet that is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and fish. Avoid foods that are fried or have a high sodium content, which can increase blood pressure. (1, 2)
5. Quit Smoking for Brain Health
Smoking is one of the three main vascular risk factors researchers found to be associated with worsening brain health. While quitting smoking is undoubtedly challenging, it is one of the most important steps a person can take to protect their cognitive wellness. (1)
6. Get Plenty of Sleep for Brain Health
Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect a person’s brain health in a variety of ways. It can make vascular risk factors and general health concerns like high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI worse. And it can cause issues with memory and thinking. The brain requires the time while the body is asleep to declutter synapses. This creates space for new learning and memories to occur the next day. (2, 4)
Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. To get a full, restful night of sleep, create a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, go to bed at the same time each night, and make the bedroom a dark, quiet space that has a comfortable temperature. Individuals who struggle to fall asleep consistently over a long period of time should consult with their doctor. (2)
7. Challenge The Mind for Brain Health
Keeping the mind active through participating in social activities and trying new things has been known to prevent memory loss. Volunteering, playing games, solving puzzles, and making art are all ways to challenge the mind. (2)
8. Take Care of Mental Health for Brain Health
Anxiety and depression both take a toll on mental health and may be connected to cognitive decline. Stress can all have adverse effects on vascular health, which research has shown to have a connection to brain health. Managing stress through mindfulness and meditation, as well as seeking therapy for anxiety and depression can support both mental and cognitive health. (2)
9. Be a Lifelong Learner for Brain Health
Formal education, no matter at what age, may improve cognitive functioning and protect against neurodegeneration. Take a class at a local community center, community college, or online to keep the mind sharp and learn about a topic of interest. (5)
10. Protect The Noggin for Brain Health
Most advice on brain health focuses on aging, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often overlooked. TBIs can lead to both cognitive decline and dementia. To lower the risk of TBI, wear a seatbelt, and use a helmet when playing a contact sport or riding a motorcycle, cycling, skateboarding, roller skating, skiing, or snowboarding. It is also important to avoid falls by holding stair railings and paying close attention when hiking on steep or rocky terrain. (6)
The brain is a person’s most precious asset. Protect brain health by following these tips!
- Cox SR, Lyall DM, Ritchie SJ, et al. Associations between vascular risk factors and brain MRI indices in UK Biobank. European Heart Journal. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/40/28/2290/5371095. Published March 11, 2019.
- Holland K. 7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/heres-how-to-keep-your-brain-healthy-as-you-age. Published March 14, 2019.
- Voss MW, The Beckman Institute and Department of Psychology, Nagamatsu LS, et al. Exercise, brain, and cognition across the life span. Journal of Applied Physiology. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00210.2011. Published November 1, 2011.
- Matthews KA, Chang Y, Kravitz HM, et al. Sleep and risk for high blood pressure and hypertension in midlife women: the SWAN (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) Sleep Study. Sleep medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946296/. Published February 2014.
- Ho AJ, Raji CA, Becker JT, et al. The effects of physical activity, education, and body mass index on the aging brain. Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbm.21113. Published August 16, 2010.
- Sharon Shively MD. Dementia Resulting From Traumatic Brain Injury. Archives of Neurology. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/1212190. Published October 1, 2012.