how to keep your brain strong and healthy
"I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix."
Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s pretty much accepted that brain health and all that goes with it—memory, intelligence, and focus—declines with age. But this is wrong: research shows that there are many ways to improve your brain function.
Whether you forget things or want to prevent any problems, there is something here for everyone to learn.
Feed your brain
Like any part of the body, the brain requires many nutrients to help it function at its peak performance. Here are two important ones:
You may have heard about choline if you have kids – you would want high amounts of it in your diet to help build your child's brain, as shown in a paper in Advanced in Pediatrics journal (Ref 1). But, choline is still essential as an adult, and deficiencies in it can cause problems.
The best source of choline is egg yolks. For vegetarians, the best source is mushrooms.
Ref 1: Choline: essential for brain development and function (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9265973/)
Vitamin D is your brain's best friend. It acts on thousands of genes in your body and is required for hundreds of hormones. Not to mention, according to a paper (Ref 2), vitamin D is anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin D is only available when our skin is in contact with direct sunlight. However, due to the indoor nature of our lifestyles, it is difficult to get the time to spend an hour in direct sunlight every day. That's why it makes sense to take a vitamin D supplement.
Ref 2: Vitamin D and inflammation (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1297319X10002708)
Rewire with gratitude
According to a placebo-controlled study (Ref 3) from the University of Pennsylvania, gratitude practices can "lastingly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms." In other words, the more you practice gratitude, the more your brain defaults to positive thinking instead of negative thinking. That's powerful!
Gratitude, defined as "the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself," can be practiced in many different manners. The most common ones are:
Practicing with loved ones
Ref 3: Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16045394)
Train your brain
Research from the Center of Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas has demonstrated that cognitive training can "improve innovative thinking, along with corresponding positive brain changes, in healthy adults over the age of 55" (Ref 4).
In this study, they used the SMART program, which stands for Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training. It focuses on improving the attention, reasoning, and broad thinking capabilities of its users. Over a short span of just 12 weeks, huge improvements in brain function were visible in the subjects!
You can download the app from the following link: https://centerforbrainhealth.org/training/apps. Let me know what you think!
Ref 4: Cognitive training enhanced innovative thinking and brain networks in older adults (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171114104219.htm)
Move and exercise
Research (Ref 5) shows that exercise dramatically increases a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF is like fertilizer for your brain. It enhances your ability to learn, focus, and even grows new connections in the brain–how cool is that?
Now, it's your turn to see how you can fit some exercise into your daily routine. Here's yet another reason to get moving!
Ref 5: Endurance training enhances BDNF release from the human brain (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19923361/)
According to a paper published by Johns Hopkins University in the Annual Review of Nutrition (Ref 6), going without food for 12-16 hours can increase BDNF levels.
Ref 6: Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16011467/)
Regular meditation can lead to "improved self-regulation of attention," according to a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Ref 7). It can improve stress management, focus, and generally help you remain calm. Even five minutes a day can do wonders!
Learn how and why to meditate in my article, All About Meditation: science, benefits, & methods.
Ref 7: Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277272/)
Chewing gum usually has a bad connotation. And that's true; a lot of familiar brands pack chewing gum with sugar, additives, and preservatives–and you definitely don't want that!
Still, there are benefits to chewing gum. Chewing gum can:
"regulate cognitive function, especially in attention." (Ref 8)
"maintain cognitive functions in the hippocampus, a region vital for spatial memory and learning." (Ref 9)
"preserving and promoting the hippocampus-dependent cognitive function in older people." (Ref 9)
For a brain boost, try chewing gum while you work throughout the day. Remember to get gum that doesn't have additives or artificial sweeteners. If you like to chew something else, go ahead–the benefits will be the same!
You are now equipped with the science-based knowledge, tools, and techniques to help keep your brain strong and resilient.
Now, I have a request for you. If you found anything useful, interesting, or if you have anything to share, please do so in the comments below.