Getting older doesn’t have to mean bad news for your brain. Although many are worried about mental decline and diseases like dementia, following the principles of naturopathic medicine can provide natural, non-invasive approaches to keep your brain sharp.
Whether you’re worried about cognitive aging or just looking to boost your brain power, the 7 daily habits listed below can help you maintain a stronger, healthier brain.
1) Get 7-8 Hours of Sleep
Sleep is a very important component of brain health. It repairs daily wear and tear, solidifies learning and supports emotional and mental resilience. New discoveries in anatomy suggest that sleep may actually help the brain clear out toxins. Plus, sleeping less than 7-8 hours a night has been linked to cognitive decline, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are one of the many who have trouble sleeping, then avoiding long naps, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, restricting the use of electronic devices before bed, and getting regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more restfully through the night. And don’t forget about hidden sources of caffeine, such as sodas (which aren’t good for you anyway) and chocolate.
2) Give Your Brain a Workout
Just as weight lifting adds lean muscle to your body and helps you retain more muscle as you age, performing regular, targeted brain exercises can help strengthen your brain. Research suggests that certain types of games and brainteasers can improve concentration, task-switching skills, and your ability to adapt to new situations. Sudoku and crossword puzzles may improve memory and delay age-related brain decline. Plus, a few other brain games have been shown to greatly improve your mood and increase levels of happiness. To help your brain stay sharp, find a few games that you like and get your daily workout.
3) Watch What you Eat
Controlling your diet isn’t just important for shrinking your waistline, eating the right foods can give your brain a healthy boost. The MIND (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) Diet which is based around green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, and olive oil has shown promise for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition, blueberries and other foods that are rich in antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals while also improving your capacity to learn. Research has also shown that foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines, can help preserve brain function as you age.
4) Say No to Refined Sugars
If you are like the majority Americans, you’re probably eating too much sugar. Although your brain requires glucose in order to function properly, the refined sugars common in American diets slowly damage cells throughout the body, and especially the brain. Additional research has found that your brain may treat excess refined sugars like a virus or bacteria, and the resulting immune response can lead to cognitive deficits. Furthermore, eating too much refined sugar can slow down neural communication, increase free radical inflammatory stress on your brain, and make it harder to think clearly. Skip the sugar today, healthier brain tomorrow.
5) Keep Your Stress in Check
Physical and mental stress take a toll on your brain. Chronic stress can lead to a higher risk of stroke, reduction in grey matter, and even affect cognitive function, including changes in learning, memory and emotional well-being.
However, there is good news. The brain is quite malleable and as a result, has a natural ability to recover from stress. When stressors are removed or reduced, neural stem cells are able to regain their ability to generate neurons at a normal level.If you’re feeling stressed, yoga, meditation, a long walk and taking deep breaths are all good stress relieving techniques that can help you feel better in the short term and keep your brain healthy in the long run.
6) Exercise Regularly
Everyone knows exercise is great for the body, but it is also just as good for your brain. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain which has been shown to decrease risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, people who exercise regularly have greater brain volume in the areas associated with reasoning and memory than those who don’t. Combining aerobic exercise like running, cycling, or swimming with strength training is ideal, and will benefit your brain and body in a number of different ways.
7) Take Control of Your Breathing
Breathing is such an important part of health, but often goes ignored or overlooked. Deep breathing has been a feature of Eastern medicine for centuries, and recent research has shown just how effective these techniques can be for improving the health of your brain. If you’re feeling stressed, controlled breathing helps calm your brain and relieve anxiety. According to one study, when practiced regularly, controlled breathing results in lower blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn can help reduce your risk of stroke and prevent cerebral aneurysms. When practiced along with mediation, deep breathing exercises have been shown to increase the size of the brain, specifically the areas associated with attention and processing of sensory input.
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About the Author
Dr. Fraser Smith