Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body; it plays a role in almost every area of your life, from learning, working and playing, to personality, aptitude and memory. There are a lot of things about the brain that science can't yet explain, including why some people can recall the name of their first-grade teacher at age 100, while others develop signs of cognitive decline in their 50s. Fortunately, emerging research indicates there are a few simple lifestyle choices you can make to help maintain your brain health.
1. Provide Your Brain Important Nutrients
A diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol and rich in good fats like polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients such as vitamin E, and lutein, may protect brain cells and promote brain health.
- Switch out saturated and trans fats for healthier fats like those found in olive oil and fatty fish (i.e. salmon and ocean trout).
- Maximize your intake of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid important to brain development) found in fatty fish, some fortified foods (i.e. juice, milk, eggs, tortillas, yogurt, etc.) and supplements.
- Eat a diet rich in vitamin E (which supports brain health) found in milk, butter, eggs, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, wheat germ and dark leafy greens (i.e. spinach).
- Add lutein to your diet (that supports brain health as we age) found in dark leafy green vegetables (i.e. kale, spinach, collards, and turnip greens), egg yolks, peas, corn, and supplements
- Aim for nine servings (each about the size of a fist) a day of fresh, washed fruits and vegetables with the skin on to maximize the nutritional punch. Be sure to include colorful ones like red grapes, cranberries, blueberries and tomatoes. These contain polyphenols that help decrease inflammation (an enemy of brain health).
2. Keep yourself Physically Healthy
Overall physical health is key to a healthy brain. Exercise significantly improves health in many ways, from helping to maintain a healthy weight and keeping cholesterol levels in check, to maintaining good blood flow to the body and brain and encouraging the growth of new brain cells and connections.
- Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
- Get approximately 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- See your doctor regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight and minimize your risk for diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension.
3. Stay Mentally Active
The saying “use it or lose it” is especially true when it comes to your brain. Research indicates the brain is capable of learning and retaining new facts and skills throughout life, especially with frequent intellectual stimulation. Intellectual curiosity, pursuit of education, even games, reading and learning new activities are all fun and easy ways to exercise your mind.
- Find brain-stimulating activities you enjoy like (i.e. reading, crosswords, and learning a new language) and engage in it regularly
- Meditate or do relaxation techniques when you feel stressed. It helps to reduce inflammation.
- Commit to learning a new word or fact every day and master a new skill or subject area every year of your life.
4. Be Socially Engaged
Friends and family are key factors to happiness – and they just might be the key to brain health as well. Research shows regular social activity promotes creation of new brain cells and supports brain repair. In one study, men and women who had the most social interaction within their community had less than half the rate of memory loss as those with the least social engagement.
- Keep working as long as you can and want to
- Volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to you
- Make spending time with family and friends a priority
- Participate in religious activities or join a club.