Exercising, eating well, socializing, and learning new things can all help you stay sharper for longer.
Everyone wants to live a full, active life for as long as they can.
And achieving that aim necessitates good brain health.
While there is no surefire strategy to avoid dementia, there is growing evidence that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors can help.
A 2015 randomized controlled trial from Finland found that older persons who practiced a variety of good habits, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising frequently, and socializing, enhanced or maintained their thinking skills and lowered their risk of cognitive loss.
Physical activity and brain health and cognitive performance are inextricably intertwined.
Exercise appears to increase brain volume, improve thinking and memory skills, and even lower the chance of dementia in people.
According to a recent study published in the journal Neurology, elderly persons who exercise vigorously have cognitive test results that are ten years younger.
It’s not entirely obvious why this is, but it’s most likely because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain.
Exercise is also supposed to aid in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory and is known to shrink with age, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Impact sports such as football, which have been linked to brain injury and dementia on numerous occasions, are the one notable exception to the exercise rule, as even minor impacts can accumulate over time.
Soccer headers are the same way.
Starting an exercise regimen earlier in life is typically the best option, with the benefits becoming more evident as one gets older.
More research is needed, but enough research has demonstrated that exercise is helpful to the brain that it’s difficult not to accept it (even if we don’t do it as much as we should).
Foods and Spices
The brain is a major energy hog, consuming far more glucose than the rest of the body.
Even though it is only a small percentage of the body’s volume, it consumes roughly 20% of the body’s energy resources.
This is understandable, given how difficult it is to think, learn, remember, and manage one’s body.
However, the source and amount of sugar are important:
Consuming highly processed carbohydrates, which break down quickly, causes the well-known blood sugar surge and crash (which your brain certainly feels).
However, eating full, unprocessed meals causes a gradual, steady rise in blood sugar and provides a more consistent source of energy–which makes the brain considerably happier.
In addition to providing energy, dietary sugar (particularly too much of it) appears to impact the brain’s plasticity, or ability to change.
For example, mice given fructose water after a brain damage had a significantly slowed recovery, according to a study published last year.
“Our findings suggest that fructose interferes with plasticity—the formation of new pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new,” said UCLA study author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, whose previous research has shown that sugar impairs cognitive function in healthy animals.
Omega-3 fatty acids, interestingly, appear to repair some of this harm.
Fatty fish has also been linked to cognition in humans, possibly because the lipids in it make brain cells more permeable.
Omega-3 capsules, on the other hand, have not been proved to be effective.
Plant-derived antioxidants have conflicting evidence of improving cognitive function, at least in isolation.
While some studies have found no effect, others have claimed that chemicals present in foods such as chocolate and blueberries may have a beneficial effect.
(Mars Inc., unsurprisingly, has supported a lot of research in this area and even sells CocoaVia, a high-potency cocoa combination for cognitive wellness.)
Finally, turmeric, a significant component of curry, has been associated to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease when consumed on a regular basis, owing to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Minerals and vitamins
Although there is no proof that multivitamins are beneficial to our health, the brain does require certain vitamins to function properly.
Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins required for the proper functioning of the central nervous system, and a lack of it can cause cognitive issues such as memory loss.
Vitamin D is also important for brain function, and low levels have been linked to cognitive decline, albeit there is no causative link.
Because it transports oxygen, iron is another nutrient that the brain requires to operate properly (particularly for women who are menstruation).
However, while supplements may be important for certain people, receiving your nutrients from food tends to be the most effective.
Many coffee drinkers intuitively know that coffee is helpful for their brains in the morning, and our cognition does look a little hazy without it.
Coffee, on the other hand, appears to have a real effect: it not only keeps us alert by inhibiting adenosine receptors, but it has also been associated to a lower risk of depression, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s illnesses.
This is partly due to the fact that, like cocoa, coffee components boost vascular health and may also aid in cellular damage repair by functioning as antioxidants.
Although there has been anecdotal evidence for thousands of years that meditation can improve a person psychologically and possibly neurologically, scientific proof for meditation’s effects on the brain has just recently exploded in the last five or ten years.
Meditation has been related to increased brain volume in specific sections of the cerebral cortex, as well as less volume in the amygdala, the brain’s fear and anxiety control center.
It’s also been related to lower activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is engaged when our brains wander from one thought to the next, most of which are unpleasant and painful.
Staying mentally active throughout one’s life, beginning with education, is linked to cognitive health, which is why crossword puzzles like Sudoku are regarded to aid cognition.
Mental activity may or may not protect the brain from disease (such as Alzheimer’s), but it does appear to be connected to less symptoms, as it strengthens our cognitive reserves.
“It’s not that higher cognitive activity prevents amyloid beta production or the development or spread of neurofibrillary tangles,” David Knopman of the Mayo Clinic told me recently, “but rather that higher cognitive activity endows the brain with a greater ability to endure the effects of brain pathologies compared to a person with lower cognitive engagement throughout life.”
The brain works extremely hard while we sleep–in fact, it hardly ever sleeps.
It’s always condensing memories and removing connections that aren’t necessary.
Even a few hours of sleep deprivation has a negative impact on our cognitive health.
It has been associated to decreased cognitive function, as well as decreased attention, learning, and creative thinking.
The more sleep debt you have, the longer it will take you to pay it off.
Aiming for roughly seven hours of sleep per night appears to be a decent goal.