Your brain is more than just a memory bank. It is responsible for everything from our thoughts and emotions to coordinating movement, heart rate, and other functions throughout the body. However, poor lifestyle choices can take a toll on the brain over time.
These four tips are key to keeping your brain healthy and your mind sharp.
It goes without saying that physical activity is paramount to a healthy lifestyle. Yet, we often overlook the role exercise plays on brain health. Regular physical activity is linked to reduced signs of aging in the brain. Research shows that adults who are physically active are more likely to maintain a youthful level of cognitive function and memory than sedentary adults (1).
Physical activity supports your brain in a few ways, but one important benefit of exercise for brain health is improved cardiovascular fitness. A strong heart and healthy blood vessels can effectively supply blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, helping you to maintain good health from head to toe (2).
Read more about physical activity and brain health: Can Exercise Maintain Brain Health During Aging?
Nourish and Hydrate
A healthy diet is key to fueling the body for optimal performance. The same healthful foods that keep your heart and skin healthy also power and protect your brain. Choosing nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, fatty fish, and berries nourishes your brain and protects brain function (3).
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 768 adults found that those with the highest average serum levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA performed significantly better on neuropsychological tests (4). In the study, the authors explain that these omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, contribute to both the structure and function of brain cells as components of cell membranes and by supporting effective signaling between brain cells. They are also involved in normal maintenance of the brain in aging.
Read more about omega-3 fatty acids and brain health: Think Fast with Fats: Fish Oil for a Sharper Memory and Better Reaction Time
A sedentary and overindulgent lifestyle can have undesirable effects on the brain. While exercise and healthy diet choices are important factors, research shows that intermittent fasting may also be beneficial for promoting long-term brain health (5). Regular periods of fasting have been linked to improved resistance to cellular stressors in the brain. Fasting activates the body’s natural process of cellular cleansing and renewal, known as autophagy, which is important for long-term brain health. Studies also suggest that switching between periods of fasting and normal eating builds greater flexibility and resilience in brain cells. In turn, the regular practice of intermittent fasting has been linked to benefits for brain function including improved cognition, mood, and motor performance (5).
Read more about the benefits of intermittent fasting: Beyond Weight Loss: The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Metabolism and Cellular Health
As amazingly complicated and powerful as the brain is, it can be easy to forget that it is affected by lifestyle factors, just like the heart or any other part of the body. Regular exercise, good nutrition, and intermittent fasting are healthy lifestyle choices that support wellbeing from head to toe and help to maintain long-term brain health and cognitive function.
Zhu W, Wadley VG, Howard VJ, et al. Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Cognitive Function in Older Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Aug 30.2.
Duzel E, van Praag H, Sendtner M. Can physical exercise in old age improve memory and hippocampal function? Brain. 2016 Mar;139(Pt 3):662-73.
Gentile F, Doneddu PE, Riva N, et al. Diet, Microbiota and Brain Health: Unraveling the Network Intersecting Metabolism and Neurodegeneration. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Oct 10;21(20):7471.
D’Ascoli TA, Mursu J, Voutilainen S, et al. Association between serum long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cognitive performance in elderly men and women: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug;70(8):970-5.
Mattson MP, Moehl K, Ghena N, Schmaedick M, Cheng A. Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2018 Feb;19(2):63-80.
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