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How to Improve Brain Health Even in Old Age

how to improve brain health
Cognitive function falls into six categories - Memory, attention, speed, focus, creativity, flexibility

Want to know how to improve brain health? You're not alone! Millions of people are looking for ways to keep their minds sharp and improve their overall brain health. So if you're one of them, here are some simple tips on how to protect your brain from cognitive decline and promote healthy cognitive development. In this article, we will share a variety of effective tactics and tips that you can use to nourish your brain health without having to take any lab-manufactured pharmaceuticals. Let's get started!

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How To Improve Brain Health

Best Foods for Brain Health and Memory

You are what you eat—or, at least, that’s how the saying goes. And as it turns out, there’s a lot of truth to it. The food you consume affects your overall health, and that includes your brain health. Just as eating unhealthy foods can increase your risk of developing heart disease (1) or diabetes (2) it can also lead to cognitive decline and memory problems. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Eating foods that improve brain function can actually help improve your brain health and brain power (3).

Fish is Essential for Healthy Brain Function

Fish is one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for proper brain functioning.

The brain is approximately two thirds fat, and Omega-3 fatty acids make up a large proportion of that. The brain relies on Omega-3 fatty acids to perform, which is why getting plenty of these healthy fats helps to protect against cognitive decline and memory problems.

Omega-3s Reduce Inflammation

how to improve brain health
The best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines.

Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and play a part in reducing inflammation in the brain, which can be the start of many health issues, both in the brain and the body. They also play a role in neuronal development and communication (4).

Aim to eat fish at least twice a week to get the most benefit. If you are a parent or thinking of having a baby, one of the best things you can do for your child’s brain is to get them eating these important foods.

Many people dislike the “fishy” taste of this type of fish. However, the sooner your child gets used to the taste, the more they will benefit while their brains are developing and as they age themselves.

Nuts and Seeds Protect You From Cognitive Decline

Nuts and seeds are another good source of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against cognitive decline (5).

Walnuts are especially beneficial for brain health due to their high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. They are even shaped liked tiny little brains to help you remember!

Other good sources of Omega-3 are almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds. Include a handful of nuts or seeds in your diet every day to reap the benefits.
Berries

Blueberries are often hailed as being good for brain health due to their high levels of anti-oxidants. In fact, wild, organic blueberries contain over thirteen thousand antioxidants (6).

Antioxidants help protect against cell damage caused by free radicals (7), which have been linked with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease (8).

Other berries packed with anti-oxidants include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries. You can add berries to your breakfast cereal, yoghurt, or porridge, enjoy a handful as a snack, or have them as a palate-cleansing dessert.

Dark leafy greens = Brain Nutrients

Spinach and kale are packed with nutrients that are important for brain health. These include vitamins C and E, which are powerful antioxidants (9); B vitamins and folate, which are important for energy metabolism (10); iron, which is essential for oxygen transport in the blood (11); and magnesium, which helps support brain plasticity (12). Eat dark leafy greens every day with your meals or add them to smoothies, salads, soups, and stews.

Avoid These Unhealthy Foods

Just as there are certain foods that are good for your brain, there are also certain foods that we should avoid if we want to keep our brains healthy. Eating too much of the wrong kind of food can lead to inflammation, which has been linked to a whole host of neurological disorders.

So, what are some of the worst offenders when it comes to brain health?

Sugary drinks are BAD for your brain

how to improve brain health

We all know that sugar and sugary drinks are bad for our health, but did you know that they're also bad for our brains?

Drinks like soda and energy drinks contain a large amount of sugar which causes inflammation (13), which, in turn, has been linked to a whole host of neurological disorders including Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and depression (14).

Aspartame Linked to Poor Brain Health

Don’t think you are let off the hook if you are drinking sugar-free soda drinks. These drinks still need to taste sweet, so aspartame is used instead of sugar.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, and although it is calorie-free, aspartame is bad news for your brain. This is because, at best, it can cause headaches and insomnia. The worst case scenario is that it can cause seizures, memory loss, damage brain tissue, and increase the risk of dementia. This is because the products that aspartame is broken down into, when digested, are poisonous to living cells (15).

Rather than drink soda drinks, whether regular or sugar-free, opt for water or unsweetened tea instead.

Related Content: What Happens When You Quit Eating Sugar

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Refined white carbohydrates

Refined white carbs like white bread, pasta, and rice have been stripped of their nutrients and fiber. Eating too many refined carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, which have been linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (16). To keep your brain healthy, opt for whole grain alternatives instead.

Foods High in Trans fats

Trans fats are often found in processed foods like cookies, crackers, and fried foods. Eating too many foods high in trans fats can lead to inflammation, which we have already learned is linked to a whole host of neurological disorders including Alzheimer's disease, brain fog, dementia, and depression. To keep your brain healthy, cut down or cut out your intake of processed foods (17).

Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, and trans fats. This combination can lead to inflammation (18), which like soda and processed carbohydrates, is not good news for our brain. To keep your brain healthy, it is best to cook food from fresh, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and cut out foods that are high in salt, sugar, saturated, and trans fats as much as possible.

Too Much Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to dehydration (19) and electrolyte imbalance (20), both of which can be detrimental to brain health. Too much alcohol causes a loss of short-term memory. However, alcohol abuse has also been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. It can damage and shrink the brain, and unfortunately, if you are female, this is likely to happen sooner than your male counterparts (21).

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Ayurveda's Best Advice on Brain Health

how to improve brain health

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian practice that provides natural strategies for improving brain health. The holistic approach of Ayurveda helps to balance the body, mind, and spirit, which benefits overall wellbeing and especially brain health. Here are three key Ayurvedic herbal formulas used to improve cognitive function:

1. Brahmi

Brahmi is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries to enhance memory and intellect. It helps improve cognitive function, alertness, and concentration.

2. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb which means it helps the body to manage stress. This herb helps to protect the brain from oxidative damage and reduce inflammation, which improves overall cognitive function.

3. Shankhapushpi

Shankhapushpi is an Ayurvedic herb that is known for its calming properties and ability to improve mental clarity and focus. It also reduces anxiety and helps regulate mood.

These Ayurvedic herbs can be taken as teas, tinctures, capsules or syrups to help improve brain health and cognitive function. Additionally, it is important to practice meditation regularly, and get enough restful sleep for optimal brain health. Implementing these strategies will help you take better care of your mental wellbeing.

how to improve brain health
Ayurveda and Brain Health

Physical Activity Boost Brain Health

Being physically active throughout your life has many benefits for your physical health, but more importantly, for your mental and brain health. Regular, consistent physical activity can improve the overall working of the brain (23) and prevent the onset of diseases such as dementia (24), depression, and Alzheimer’s disease (25). 

Exercise has been shown to increase the part of the brain that is vital for learning and memory (26). The type of exercise that has been shown to be the best for cognitive health is aerobic exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, rather than exercise such as yoga, which is based on stretching and toning.

One reason for this is that the more time spent doing aerobic exercise, the quicker the brain transforms glucose into energy, which could lower the chances of Alzheimer’s disease (27). 

All that is needed is half an hour a day of physical activity, five days out of seven. If you are looking to start exercising in your later years, walking is the best place to start. It is also a good idea to learn fall prevention strategies. This is because falling can cause head injuries that obviously impact the brain. Ask your healthcare provider to point you in the direction of a fall prevention group. 

The sooner you start exercising, the better, but don’t worry if you have never exercised before. It is never too late. The best time to start exercising is when you are young. The second-best time is now!

Keep Your Mind Active

Keeping your mind active is one of the best things you can do for your brain health. One of the best ways to keep your mind active is by learning new things. When you challenge your brain with new information, you're giving it a workout and helping it to grow stronger.

Learning a new language (28) or how to play a musical instrument (29) are both excellent options for keeping your mind active, keeping your brain healthy, slowing the onset of dementia and even increasing grey matter and overall brain size. 

You can also try memory games or puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords, which have shown to benefit brain health and cognition even up to the age of 93 (30).  Practice makes perfect so doing these activities consistently, on a daily basis is more beneficial than occasionally.   

Be Sociable

Another great way to keep your mind active is by socializing regularly. Spending time with friends and loved ones gives your brain a much-needed break from work or other screen time activities.

Socializing can also help reduce stress levels, even if it means that you just forget your troubles for a few hours (31). This is important as stress is bad news for brain health, killing off brain cells and causing the brain to reduce in size (32).

In addition, staying social is important as the brain deteriorates much faster in lonely people and can lead to poor mental health (33). So invite friends and family round for a cuppa, join local clubs and societies, or simply go and knock on a neighbor’s door and introduce yourself. 

There are many ways we can keep our brains healthy as we age. So get out there and start living your best life!

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Written by Jackie Parker

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