Your internal organs are all working behind the scenes to ensure your body is constantly running in top shape. But there’s one organ responsible for the function of every other organ in the body and pretty much everything you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell — your brain.
Your brain is more powerful than we may ever know, but what we do know is that keeping it healthy is essential for overall holistic functioning. But what can you do to keep your brain function in check? And what happens if brain health declines over time?
Here’s everything you need to know about what’s good for brain health and preventative measures you can take to support your body’s natural defenses against cognitive decline.
What Is Brain Health?
Brain health is a critical part of overall health that underlies the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and live a productive life. The brain is responsible for controlling pretty much everything you experience or think, so we like to argue that it’s the most important organ in your entire body.
Having a healthy brain is about maintaining cognitive health to give us a better overall quality of life. The CDC defines brain health as the ability to perform all mental processes of cognition, including learning and judging, using language, and remembering.
Especially with age, older adults may see impairment in their mental function and behave in ways that they were once able. But some of these symptoms may be slowed down or even reversed by taking preventative measures and switching to a healthy lifestyle sooner than later.
Ways To Slow Down Cognitive Decline
If you’re starting to feel like your memory is fading or your mental health is becoming a little less fortified, it might be time to take steps towards improving your cognitive function and preventing disease. Here are some of the best ways.
1. Exercise Your Body
Physical activity might seem like the polar opposite of mental health, but physical and mental well-being often go hand in hand. Staying active is one of the best ways to support your brain health and your body’s natural defense against cognitive decline.
The research indicating regular exercise’s benefits on your health is almost never-ending. Exercise can reduce insulin resistance and inflammation while supporting the natural growth of new brain cells. Indirectly, it can improve your self-confidence, support a positive mood, and soothe feelings of stress.
But if the thought of going to the gym sounds like the worst thing in the world, don’t worry. Some of the best exercises for brain health include walking, swimming, and yoga. Consider buddying up with a friend to make working out feel less like work and more like a fun, social activity.
2. Eat Nutritious Foods
What we put into our bodies directly correlates to how we think and feel.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can support sleep, appetite, and mood. But 95 percent of this neurotransmitter exists in your gut. So, when the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract is in top shape, it can support your mood.
Aside from gut microbiome maintenance, eating the right foods can help keep oxidative stress in check. Oxidative stress is the process by which cells in your body are damaged because free radicals (damage-causing unstable molecules) outnumber the antioxidants that neutralize them.
Thankfully, you can support your natural antioxidant levels through your foods. Antioxidant-rich foods are also high in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, B vitamins, fiber, selenium, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that support physical and mental wellbeing.
These foods include:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Olive oil
- Salmon and other fatty fish
- Brown rice
- Citrus fruits
- Whole Grains
And the list goes on and on. Diets like the DASH diet, MIND diet, Keto diet, and the Mediterranean diet are popular choices for people looking to support their antioxidant intake.
While being mindful of what you’re putting in, you should also pay attention to things you should cut out. Processed foods with lots of added sugars, alcohol, fried foods, and red meats can all contribute to natural oxidative stress and may do more harm than good. Try to enjoy these in moderation.
3. Manage High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Blood pressure that is consistently above normal can have damaging effects on your veins and arteries. This can have compounding effects on your cognition.
High blood pressure in middle age is a risk factor for cognitive decline later in life. Large studies have found that individuals with hypertension seem to perform more poorly in cognition and memory tasks compared to those with normal blood pressure.
You can maintain healthy blood pressure or lower high blood pressure by staying physically active and managing your weight. Also, try to reduce your sodium intake, eat a healthy diet full of brain foods with low cholesterol foods, limit alcohol consumption, and quit smoking if you do.
4. Stay Social
Going to a party with friends or having a game night at your house is a fun, exciting way to pass the time. But believe it or not, it might also be working to lower your risk of cognitive decline.
Being social can lighten your mood, stimulate the brain, and foster good brain health. It promotes a sense of safety, belonging, and security and allows you to confide in others to let them confide in you.
5. Manage Stress
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed in the hustle and bustle of our busy world. Incoming deadlines, appointments, work, going to the gym — there’s always so much to do but so little time.
All of this can contribute to feelings of stress, which can negatively affect your brain health. Not only can stress contribute to high blood pressure, reducing cognition, but it can also contribute to co-occurring mental illness that naturally affects your brain health.
You can prevent stress by planning and prioritizing the most important tasks first. You can also prepare for stressful events ahead so you’re not as blindsided when the event occurs.
Additionally, give yourself much-needed self-care time to rejuvenate your mind and body. Treat yourself to a day at the spa, take a restorative yoga class, or just take the day off of work and lounge around on the couch. Whatever works to bring down your anxiety is an effective method.
6. Get Enough Sleep
When we sleep, it might seem like our body completely shuts off reality. However, your brain is incredibly active when you sleep. Sleep is a restorative process that lets you create new memories and remove toxins built up while awake.
Without sleep, you can’t form or maintain pathways that let you learn and memorize important details. This can make concentrating, responding quickly, or solving problems harder than they have to be. Over time, this can build up and lead to cognitive decline as you age.
Try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you’re having trouble catching some ZZZs, try making your sleeping environment more comfortable. Invest in some comfy pillows, dark curtains, or a new comforter to enhance your comfort in bed.
Additionally, you can try to limit screen time before bed. Your brain might mistake the blue light for daytime when you’re on your phone or computer before bed. Consider reading a book or journaling 30 minutes before bed instead of scrolling on social media.
7. Try a New Activity
Your brain can stay nice, young, and fit when you form new connections between nerve cells. This is called developing neurological “plasticity, " which happens when you have new experiences.
If you’ve wanted to try out a new hobby for a while, now’s your sign to give it a go! Things like knitting, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, playing Sudoku, or doing an escape room with friends can help foster new connections in your brain.
You can even try incorporating various activities into your life to improve your sharpness and stimulate your brain. Try limiting your time watching television and get yourself out in the world having new experiences.
Your brain is one of the most important organs in your entire body, and keeping it in tip-top shape is necessary for your overall well-being. Cognitive decline is sometimes natural with age, but there are preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Many of these are simple changes you can make in your daily life. Eating healthy, exercising often, and staying social are simple and often rewarding ways to enhance your mental clarity.
But you can also take steps to improve your physical health that has domino effects on your mental wellbeing, like maintaining healthy blood pressure and managing stress. Regardless, you must ensure you’re fueling your mind and body for success.
For more tips on supporting brain health and wellness, explore the rest of the MOSH wellness blog here!
Healthy Brain Initiative | Alzheimer's Disease and Healthy Aging | CDC
Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills | Harvard Health
Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food | Harvard Health
Antioxidants: What They Do and Antioxidant-Rich Foods | Cleveland Clinic
High blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline | National Institute on Aging.
Health Benefits of Social Interaction | Mercy Medical Center
Manage Stress - MyHealthfinder | health.gov
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke