Our brain is truly the most amazing part of our body. It comes up with creative ways to express your thoughts and emotions, coordinates movements from chopping onions to running an obstacle course, stores your most precious childhood memories, and solves the Sunday crossword. But it’s easy to take those powers for granted.
“Many people don’t start thinking about their brain health until they notice some cognitive changes and memory loss in their 60s or 70s but there are many things you can do, starting as young as childhood, to keep your brain as healthy as possible throughout your lifetime. We know that intellectual pursuits, social interaction, and perhaps most importantly, physical activity are helpful in keeping one’s brain sharp.”
The most important strategy is to work with your doctor to stay on top of your cardiovascular health. You want to keep blood moving easily through your heart and blood vessels. “High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and diabetes all increase the risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases by impeding blood flow to the brain.
When artery walls get thick with plaque or “hardened,” a condition called atherosclerosis, it’s difficult to get enough blood to the brain and nurture its cells. This can also lead to ischemic stroke — when a blood clot forms in an artery, cutting off the blood supply to a section of the brain. That can cause temporary or even permanent brain damage.
A healthy, active lifestyle will go a long way toward keeping your blood flowing and avoiding those problems. Women found that those who ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, drank only moderately, and kept their body mass index (BMI) below 25 had a far lower risk of stroke than women who didn’t meet any of those five goals.
Plenty of Quality Sleep
A key way to keep your brain working is shut it off for 7-9 hours a night. “Sleep is the most important thing you can do to reset the brain, allow it to heal, and to restore mental health. During sleep, the brain clears out toxins called beta-amyloids that can lead to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Few simple things before you go to bed.
Do a digital detox
Commit to the same bedtime each night, and turn off all electronics and screens at least 30-60 minutes before you hit the pillow.
Dump your worries
Jot down any lingering concerns and a quick to-do list for tomorrow to help settle your brain. “Our thoughts are always racing, provoking anxiety,” she says. “But if you write it down with pencil and paper, it tells your brain it doesn’t have to be concerned about those things while you sleep.”
Spend a moment meditating
Not only will 5-10 minutes of mindful meditation calm your brain and make it easier to sleep, meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, and confusion. “Meditation can benefit people with insomnia by helping them fall asleep and stay asleep. It also helps with inflammation in the brain,” she says. “Most people find not only do they sleep better, they can focus better and are not as anxious.”
Move Your Body
Walking for 30 minutes a day, taking a dance class, or going for a swim helps keep you slim and fit, and it could improve your cognitive health, too. A large that found the more physically active adults were, the higher they scored on tests of memory and problem-solving.
Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain have shown it can increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, which naturally shrinks as you age.
Working your leg muscles may be key to getting the maximum brain benefit from physical activity. When you use your legs in weight-bearing exercise, the brain receives signals that spur it to make healthy new cells.
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat, full of the nutrients found in leafy green vegetables, along with whole grains can help keep your brain healthy throughout your life. For many people, this means following the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and avocados, while limiting red meat.
The MIND diet — a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy DASH diet, with an extra emphasis on berries and leafy greens — was created specifically to boost brain health. It’s been shown to lower the odds of Alzheimer’s disease.
One treat to consider adding to your diet: dark chocolate. The flavanols in cocoa beans can help improve memory and cognitive function.
Also recommends paying attention to how much caffeine you have. “Coffee in the right dose can help focus and prevent neurodegenerative disease, after two cups, the effects can become harmful and the stimulants may get in the way of falling asleep. Recommends one or two cups in the morning, then switching to drinks without caffeine by 2 p.m.