It’s been a long winter (albeit not too cold)…Isn’t it time for some spring cleaning of our minds and our bodies? Worried that as you age, your memory and cognitive skills will deteriorate, leaving you wondering how to improve brain function? Never fear—studies show that a few simple lifestyle additions can have immense benefits for the mind. Here are three scientifically proven actions you can take that when combined together are the best way to improve brain fuction and protect against dementia.
1. Eat a nutritious, antioxidant-filled diet to improve brain fuction. Try to bump up your intake of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and good fats. The more vibrant the color of the plant food, the greater the amount of powerful disease-fighting antioxidants you are feeding your neurons (brain cells). These are the types of foods that boost our brainpower. Now is the time to change those unhealthy eating habits. In addition to fruits and veggies, the fat you choose to eat also has a huge effect on your brain cells. Omega-3 fat, specifically the fish fat called docosahexanoic acid (DHA), is essential for healthy brain growth and development, as DHA makes up a large portion of the gray matter brain neurons. Because of this fact, DHA has taken on a critical role as a potential therapeutic intervention in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. What’s the best food source of DHA? Large cold water fish that swim in the deep oceans contain the highest amount of DHA as well as the other important omega-3 fish fat, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Some fabulous fish choices high in omega-3s and low in mercury include wild salmon, canned light tuna and catfish.
2. Daily exercise. You are probably already aware that regular aerobic exercise is key for keeping your body lean and your cardiovascular system fit. What you might not know is that cardio exercise has also been shown to boost brain power by stimulating the formation of new brain cells, or neurons, and the connections between those cells, regardless of age. Regular exercise is thought to provide protection against age-related cognitive decline and possibly reduce risk of dementias. A program of regular aerobic exercise specifically benefits the brain’s domain of memory and learning. Recent evidence is shedding light on the mechanisms responsible for exercise’s ability to keep the brain fit. The increase in blood flow within the brain, changes in neurotransmitters, and increased production of brain-derived chemicals stimulates neurogenesis (new neuron growth). Strength training can also help fire you fire up those neurons and you’re never too old to improve your brain function with a program of regular strength training. That’s the findings from a recent study published in the prestigious medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study demonstrated that a regular program of strength training improves cognitive function in women aged 65 to 75 years old. What’s more, researchers showed that strength training also helps the wallet: The strength training group incurred fewer health care costs and had fewer falls than the subjects who were restricted to just balance and toning exercises.
3. Mental exercises. Learning new things, challenging the brain with novel activities out of the routine is a marvelous way to stimulate the neurons and improve brain fuction. The key word here is familiarity…practicing the same old daily routines is not exercise for the mind. To stimulate the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells, you will need to do things that you are unfamiliar with and that are mentally challenging. For example, one study* found that daily computer-based cognitive exercises, allowing individuals to face more challenging versions of each task as their competency increased, significantly improved mental capacity.
Spring is here, the flowers are blooming and the birds are chirping. Why not take advantage of the great outdoors and take up a new sport, or join a garden club—learn something new and give your brainpower a huge boost at the same time? Indeed, the mind is like a muscle—with training you can improve brain function. Start now to shake off the winter cobwebs; get your sneaks on; fire up those neurons; get back on the track to getting things done; learn something new and really start living!