Finding natural ways to boost brain power is essential these days. Consider these statistics:
- “An estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2021.” (1)
- “Two-thirds of Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s dementia (3.8 million) are women.” (2)
- “Nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease .” (3) Like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease.
- In analyzing surveys, researchers discovered that “11 percent of people aged 45 and older reported having mental decline, and half of those people also said they had limitations performing daily tasks.” (4)
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find statistics on cognitive dysfunction absent a diagnosed brain disease or disorder. But sales figures for brain-boosting supplements indicate the number of people suffering from brain fog, trouble concentrating, or memory issues.
From Grand View Research: “The global brain health supplements market size was valued at USD 7.21 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.0% from 2021 to 2028.” (5)
7.21 billion dollars is a considerable amount of money for brain health supplements!
What Causes Cognitive Decline?
Many factors can negatively impact brain function, including:
- Brain Disease, i.e., Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease
- Medical conditions, i.e., Diabetes, Kidney Disease
- Chronic stress
- Poor-Quality Diet
- Environmental toxins
Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Did you notice that “age” is not listed among the causes of cognitive decline above? That’s because many experts believe that age alone is not responsible for brain dysfunction.
As CDC epidemiologist Christopher Taylor told HealthDay News, “Symptoms of confusion and memory loss are not a normal part of aging.” (6)
Ways to Boost Your Brain Power
Though the exact causes of cognitive decline are unknown and likely involve a combination of factors listed above, we do know lifestyle choices play a role. Indeed, science suggests that there are at least six ways to boost your brain function: eating better, exercising your brain, exercising your body, reducing stress, improving sleep habits, and expanding your social network.
We’ll discuss each of them.
Boost Your Brain Power With Diet
A brain-boosting diet includes a variety of different-colored nonstarchy vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and low-sugar fruit.
This diet is rich in nutrients and fiber that your body and your brain need to thrive.
5 Foods to Improve Brain Function
Within the category of a brain-boosting diet, there are a few foods that merit special attention. Below are five of them.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and herring are particularly beneficial for brain health. The reason? Oily fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Numerous research studies suggest that increased intake of omega-3s may be beneficial for various neurological and neurodegenerative conditions. (7) The reason upping your intake of fatty fish may be so beneficial is that fatty acids are building blocks of neuronal membranes, which influence brain cells. (8)
In addition, fatty fish supplies the healthy fats and protein your body and brain need to function correctly.
But what if you don’t like fish? No problem. You can choose various plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia seeds, walnuts, ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and broccoli.
Blueberries are good for your health generally, and they are particularly beneficial for your brain. For example, blueberries contain anthocyanins, plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that defend against neurodegenerative disease and slow brain aging. (9)
Various studies suggest that blueberries may help boost communication between brain cells and improve memory and brain function in adults with mild cognitive impairment. (10, 11, 12)
Dark chocolate is loaded with several brain-boosting nutrients, especially flavonoids. Research suggests that these flavonoids travel to the areas of the brain tasked with learning and memory, thus improving memory and slowing cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. (13, 14, 15)
For better brain-boosting results, choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, as the latter has not been shown to provide the same benefits. (Dark chocolate contains a much higher percentage of cocoa than milk chocolate.)
There are many ways that nuts can contribute to brain health. The first is through the heart, as having a healthy heart is essential to having a healthy brain. Multiple research studies show that eating nuts can improve many markers of heart disease.
For example, research in the Journal of American College of Nutrition reported that eating about 1/2 cup of walnuts every day for four months is sufficient to lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and slim the waist. (16) Plus, studies suggest that regular consumption of nuts may lower the risk of cognitive decline in older individuals. (17)
Why are nuts so good for the brain? Well, experts believe it’s because nuts and seeds are loaded with brain-healthy nutrients, such as vitamin E, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. (See the fatty fish category above for the cognitive benefits of omega-3s.)
Eggs are well-known brain foods. That’s because they are a rich source of choline, a nutrient needed to create the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps regulate memory and mood. (18, 19) It has even been shown to improve cognitive performance in general. (20)
Eggs also contain B vitamins and folate that also support brain health.
Bonus: Don’t Forget to Hydrate Your Brain!
It’s also important to drink plenty of water. After all, an estimated 75% of brain tissue is water. (21) Consequently, dehydration can lead to confusion, depression, anxiety, and other cognitive issues.
To keep your brain and body hydrated, try to drink at least eight glasses of water every day, more on a hot day or if you’re exercising.
Foods that Impair Healthy Brain Function
If there are foods that boost brain function, there have to be foods that impair it, right? Yes, indeed. To protect your brain, try to reduce or eliminate the following types of foods:
- Heavily processed foods, such as prepackaged bags or boxes of food that contain a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Fast foods, like almost anything you can get from a fast-food restaurant, except for salads, of course.
- Convenience foods, like potato chips
- Foods with added sugar
Exercise Your Brain
A body of emerging research shows that cognitive exercises can boost brainpower. For example, a new study from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland suggests that early retirees have a higher risk of dementia than those who retire later. (22) One reason for this could be the concept of “use it or lose it.” Research shows that if you don’t routinely use certain cognitive functions, your brain will eliminate or “prune” connections between applicable brain cells. Pruning allows the brain to remove connections that are no longer needed.
Conversely, exercising your brain strengthens connections between brain cells. Plus, research suggests that learning something new “rewires” the brain, creating new neural connections.
And exercising your brain isn’t difficult and can even be fun! Here are a few ways to improve mental performance.
- Do crossword and number puzzles.
- Assemble jigsaw puzzles
- Play card games with a group, e.g., poker, or alone, e.g., solitaire
- Play the word game Scrabble
- Learn new dance moves
- Play or learn a musical instrument
- Learn a new skill
- Practice meditation
- Learn a foreign language
Exercise Your Body
We all know that physical exercise is good for the body, but research shows it’s also essential for a healthy brain. After all, moderate- to high-intensity exercise floods your brain with oxygen and increases blood flow to the brain, which may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical exercise also reduces stress hormones. This is important because chronic stress can lead to a buildup of stress hormones that impair brain function and even kill brain cells. (23, 24)
The best type of physical exercise for brain health is aerobic (cardio) and include:
- Brisk walking
- Jumping jacks
- Jumping rope
- Organized sports
For best results, try to exercise continuously at a steady rate for at least 20 minutes or alternate between moderate- and high-intensity exercises.
As previously mentioned, chronic stress can impair brain function. Therefore, you must find ways to reduce stress.
Here are a few tried-and-true methods for stress reduction:
- Seated mediation
- Mindfulness training
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Playing fetch with your dog
- Walking around the block
- Listening to calming music
- Having a relaxing massage
- Spending time in nature
Doing one or more of these activities will help you manage stress.
Improve Sleep Habits
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping now that you are “older,” you’re not alone. In a recent sleep survey, “One-third of people aged 55-64 and one-quarter of people aged 65-84 reported that their sleep quality had worsened over time.” (25)
There are many reasons why sleep patterns change as we age, including changes in circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) and health problems. But improving sleep habits is vital for brain health, especially as we age. So, what should you do if you have problems falling or staying asleep?
First, check with your doctor to see if you have any medical issues that could negatively affect your sleep. For example, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, diabetes, and even overactive bladder can disrupt sleep. The good news is that there are often treatments for these conditions.
If medical issues aren’t responsible for your sleep problems, try some of these methods to improve slumber:
- Adhere to a strict sleep schedule, even on the weekends
- Avoid food at least three hours before bedtime
- Relax before bed by reading a book, meditating, or practicing deep breathing exercises.
- Turn off your devices at least one hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted from your TV, smartphone, computer screen, and tablet interferes with your brain’s melatonin production. These devices also stimulate your brain, which is not something you want right before turning in.
- Limit your fluid intake, as frequent urination during the night can disrupt sleep.
- Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. A dark, quiet, and cool environment can help promote restful sleep.
Expand and Deepen Your Social Network
As social animals, humans need interactions and relationships with other people. Indeed, research suggests that relationships stimulate and protect the brain. For example, in a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers discovered a link between an active social life and a reduced rate of cognitive decline. (26) So, it’s clear that expanding your social network may help improve memory, protect the brain, and slow mental decline.
Here are a few ways to develop and nurture relationships with others.
- Volunteer at a local organization
- Join a gym or fitness facility
- Make a point to visit or call friends and family more often
- Join a club
- Take the bus or subway occasionally. Public transport is a GREAT way to meet new people!
- Take your furry friend to a dog park. Let’s face it. Dogs make it easy to strike up a conversation with someone new!
- Visit a local museum
- Take yoga classes
- Register for a local trade school or community college class that attracts older adults, unless age is not important to you.
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