7 Easy Ways to Support Brain Health
by Lisa DiFalco
Cognitive decline does not need to be part of the aging process. There are simple and natural ways to boost cognitive function and provide the brain stimulus and nutrients needed for optimal health. Many of these simple tips can be done during a break in the day and are easy to incorporate in a daily routine.
Optimal brain health supports many functions of the body and can boost work performance and more. Explore quick and easy ways to maintain healthy brain function.
Exercise and Cognitive Health
Regular exercise can improve brain health and even delay certain factors influenced by the aging process. In the study Leisure-time physical activity associates with cognitive decline, published in the journal Neurology, it appears those older people who regularly exercise achieve the same cognitive test scores of individuals 10 years younger than them. This bodes well for those who make walking, running, aerobics, and other forms of physical exercise a part of their day activities. Exercise may positively influence cognitive function, as well as supporting physical health.
Caffeine and Diseases of the Brain
Coffee may not only give a boost needed to focus on a task at hand. Caffeine has been linked to decreasing depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. In the study Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the research team found that women who drank four or more cups of coffee had a 20-percent lower risk of depression. Comparable benefits were not seen in those drinking tea, decaf, chocolate, and soft drinks, among other caffeinated beverages. The compounds in coffee appear to act as an antioxidant and repair cellular damage. A morning cup of coffee may provide an extra level of protection when it comes to certain conditions related to the brain.
Sleep and the Brain
As nurses and many health professionals know, sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep can impact ability to perform regular activities and focus on complicated tasks. It appears sleep deprivation can also limit creative thinking while resulting in a poor attention span. A short nap may provide the mind with a restorative break it needs to improve function and focus. A nap of 10 to 30 minutes in length, taken mid-afternoon, is suggested for those who need a boost. However, regular, restorative sleep is recommended for optimal brain health and function.
Meditation and Brain Focus
Meditation has been linked to supporting mental health. Scientific evidence now indicates other positive effects on the brain. Meditation has been linked to an increase in the cerebral cortex, reducing the tendency for the mind to wander and increasing the ability to concentrate. In the study Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness, it was found that:
“Brain regions associated with attention, interoception, and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants… including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.”
Meditation may support a healthy level of cortical thickness and be retained as practitioners age.
Games and Brain Function
Mental games, including crosswords and puzzles, may support brain health. It is believed such games may aid cognition. In one study, almost 75 percent of individuals who regularly did crosswords and other mentally enriching activities had sharper minds and a reduced risk of developing dementia. According to study results, word-puzzle lovers possessed the brain function of individuals 10 years younger when it came to tests of short-term memory accuracy and grammatical reasoning speed. Work on a crossword puzzle during a lunch break with friends and reap brain boosting benefits.
Food and Brain Health
Specific foods support the health of the brain. Individuals who choose to eat their way to optimal brain health may want to consume more salmon, trout, walnuts, blueberries, brown rice, spinach, tomatoes, onions, apple, barley, quinoa, and chia in their diet. Bringing a healthful lunch to work can provide sustenance the brain needs to perform many of its cognitive functions. In order to maintain a healthy brain, it is recommended individuals avoid added sugars, trans fat, and saturated fat. Fruit smoothies high in insoluble fiber and yogurt topped with fruits and nuts can be beneficial breakfast options.
Vitamins, the CNS, and the Brain
It is generally recommended individuals consume a diet rich in an array of proteins, fruits, and vegetables to receive nutrition, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal health. If this is not possible, many turn to supplementing any deficiencies with vitamins. Specific vitamins are known to help the central nervous system (CNS) and cognitive function. Vitamin B12 is recommended to support the CNS and to prevent memory loss. Vitamin D is also essential, as a deficiency can inhibit cognitive function. High iron levels are needed for menstruating women, as iron is necessary to carry oxygen to the brain. A multivitamin may help cover the bases for the majority of people, but others may want to incorporate specific vitamins or dietary changes to boost their brain health.
Why Is Brain Health Important?
It is difficult to reduce symptoms of depression and Parkinson’s and signs of cognitive decline in the elderly. Why not take easy and simple measures to boost cognitive function, focus, and brain health earlier in life? Exercise and healthy foods will not only support brain function but also extend to improving the health of other systems of the body. Children, parents, educators, health professionals, case managers, and community members can make these activities and dietary changes part of their regular routine and create brain-boosting results for a lifetime. As additional research comes out, individuals may look forward to using other ways to improve cognitive function and brain health.