5 Tips for Keeping your Thinking Machine Sharp

What’s pink, weighs around three pounds, and is held together by 80 billion connections? Your brain!

Your brain is seemingly magic: it creates your mood, regulates your breathing, tells your heart to beat, stores your memories, and weaves together your strangest dreams. It’s the command center of your entire body, and it dictates the way you experience this thing called life.

Because your brain is core to everything we do as humans, it’s important to ensure your habits and actions support brain health. Below, we’ve listed out five ways you can support optimal brain function and boost your mood, memory, and overall brain health.

1. Keep your brain protected

One of the most important steps to take towards brain health is physical protection. We all have thick, protective skulls, but that isn’t always enough to protect the soft brain from damage.

A study published in JAMA Neurology found that young contact sports athletes are at a much higher risk for brain disorders (3X higher than non-athletes) like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease associated with repetitive head impacts. The study examined the brains of deceased contact sports athletes (football, soccer, hockey, rugby, and wrestling) younger than 30 years old at the time of death and CTE was found in 41.4 percent!

And these brain injuries result in mood disturbances, mental illnesses, memory problems, speech issues, and more.

This first step, thankfully, is the simplest: to physically protect your brain, make sure you do things like:

  • Wearing a seatbelt in the car
  • Wearing a helmet when biking, scootering, snowboarding
  • Avoiding contact sports where tackling is common

Brain injuries can result from direct impact to the brain, as well as the brain essentially getting shaken within the skull due to the impact. To avoid these, be sure to wear your helmet, buckle up, and opt for playing a non-contact sport over football!

2. Avoid harmful substances

Blood flow to the brain is one of the metrics of brain health. Blood delivers oxygen and glucose to the energy hungry brain, and when we have good blood flow to the brain, it’s properly nourished and energized to go about its myriad of functions.

Certain substances and chemicals impair blood flow to the brain, particularly if used overtime. It may be obvious that drugs like cocaine severely limit blood flow to the brain, but did you know cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, and caffeine can have similar effects?

This doesn’t mean you have to quit coffee tomorrow or never have a sip of alcohol again (if you choose to drink); however, you should consider decreasing your intake of these substances. If you drink alcohol, see how you feel if you lower the amount you drink by 25% each week. Try the same with caffeine! If you smoke cigarettes and are considering quitting, let the impact of cigarettes on your brain health be yet another motivator.

3. Make lifelong learning a priority

Did you know your brain continues to grow new neurons (brain cells), make new connections, and develop throughout your entire life? Many people believe that your brain only develops until we turn 25, and then the brain doesn’t do anything new from there.

But research has shown that this isn’t true. Though the brain reaches a certain level of maturity in development around 25, the brain never stops growing and making new connections based on new experiences and skills. You can use this lifelong plasticity (ability to grow and change) to enhance your brain health!

To keep your brain active, consider learning a new language, taking up a new exercise class, or just committing to trying new things constantly! Whether it’s as simple as trying a new word game or as elaborate as traveling somewhere you’ve never been, continuing to give your brain new experiences will support its ability to grow and change over time.

I like playing word games on my phone.  But to really give my brain a workout, I play Dual N-Back memory game where you have to remember 2-3 spots back to match. A less brain heavy one I like is Wordscapes. They are free and you can download them from the App store.

4. Cover the health basics!

As with the health of all other organs, it’s important to be mindful of your nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and stress when considering your brain health.

Stress literally deteriorates the brain and is believed to lead to shrinkage of certain brain areas important to memory, like the hippocampus. If you don’t yet have a meditation routine, consider adding one. And reminder: meditation can be sitting in silence for 10 minutes, sure, but it can also be taking time to go on a walk in nature, or even washing dishes and letting your mind go, or following along with a guided meditation like this one from Calm.

Sleep deprivation leads to decreased brain activity, and a minimum of seven hours of sleep is important for the brain to regenerate and make new connections based on the day’s experiences. You can read this Wholistics blog for tips to improve your sleep if you’re struggling to get your seven hours!

A diet rich in fiber, fatty acids (from fish, walnuts, olive oil, and more), lean proteins, and enough complex carbohydrates is key to brain function. Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned neurologist, recommends adding these seven superfoods to the diet to optimize brain health:

  1. Hemp Seeds: a good plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and prebiotic fiber.
  2. Turmeric: the active ingredient curcumin known to decrease plaque that forms in Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. Pea Protein: a good source of brain chain amino acids, including arginine, which stimulates blood flow to the brain.
  4. Seaweed: supports thyroid function and memory, attention deficit and depression.
  5. Sardines: in addition to Omega-3s, they contain choline, which has been shown to be neuroprotective following head trauma.
  6. Brazil Nuts: a great source of selenium which is essential for brain health. Also contains the polyphenol ellagic acid which has been shown to have neuroprotective properties.
  7. Gluten-Free Whole Oats: a great source of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, an amino acid that helps to stabilize electrical activity in the brain and results in calmness and better self-control.

Additionally, a regular physical activity routine is also important—consistent exercise is believed to support the growth of new neurons and new connections in the brain!

5. Get support when you need it!

Realize that you aren’t alone on your journey. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, or finding that you’re struggling with memory, that’s the right moment to get support from your doctor or a psychiatrist. There are changes that happen in the brain with these different issues, and your clinicians will be able to support you in finding solutions to these struggles with brain health.

Supporting brain health is key to supporting your overall health, so choose a few of these tips to try and see if you feel like Einstein!

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