Lifestyle Changes for Improving Brain Health
When it came to brain health, most scientists used to believe the old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? The long-held belief was that the adult brain lost the ability to expand itself after a certain age. Once you lost certain cognitive functions, they were gone forever with no way to recover them. Fortunately, new research has revealed that improving brain health is possible at any age.
Not only is it possible to change your brain at any life stage, but you can improve your cognitive functions just by making a few simple lifestyle changes. Here’s how you can improve your brain health naturally no matter how old you are!
What is neurogenesis?
The human brain is home to millions of hard-working neurons, or brain cells, firing their synapses to create connections throughout our minds. As we age, the number of neurons in our brains naturally begins to decline, which can lead to cognitive problems. You might find yourself forgetting where you put your keys more often, or struggling to solve a simple brain teaser that might’ve taken you minutes in earlier years. These small slips in your cognitive functions can become frustrating as they interfere with your daily life, and even become outright debilitating over time. Fortunately, it is possible for some people to recover their cognitive functions with a little help.
The creation of new neurons is called “neurogenesis”. New research suggests that the brain can continue to create neurons well into adulthood. The findings reveal that adults with Alzheimer’s Disease have fewer neurons in their brains than neurologically healthy adults, suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease and a lack of neurons are directly connected.
Treatment options, like the non-invasive HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen therapy) protocol offered at Aviv Clinics, have been shown to stimulate neurogenesis in the adult brain, slowing and even reversing the effects of age-related cognitive decline. It’s also possible to stimulate neurogenesis on your own.
How to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: Understanding neuroplasticity
When you experience something new, such as playing your grandkid’s favorite video game for the first time, the stimulation causes the neurons in the brain to fire their synapses, forming new pathways in your brain. The more you play the game and hone your skills, the stronger those connections become. This is “neuroplasticity”—the brain’s ability to change itself in response to new information. With neuroplasticity, your brain can literally rewire itself by changing its physical structure.
But, neuroplasticity can do more than help you level up your gaming skills. Through neuroplasticity, the brain can even restructure itself after suffering an injury, such as a TBI or stroke, by forming new neural connections in undamaged parts of the brain. Building and strengthening your neural connections is a key aspect of maintaining brain health at any age. Here are a few ways to promote neuroplasticity you can try out at home!
5 Tips for Improving Brain Health Naturally
Eat a healthy diet
Think of the brain as your body’s main engine. If you want your brain to run in tip-top shape, you need to give it the proper fuel to run on. Eating processed foods high in saturated fat and sugar can stall neurogenesis, or cause “brain fog” that slows your cognitive abilities.
The good news is, eating a diet with foods that promote neurogenesis can improve your cognitive health. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and fish can increase neuron production. So can the flavonoids in foods like dark chocolate and fresh berries. Even the resveratrol in a glass of wine can give your brain a boost, although drinking in excess can have the opposite effect.
The amount of food you eat and how often you eat it also has a role to play. Caloric restriction diets promote neurogenesis, and so do eating methods like intermittent fasting. Try giving a simple 16:8 fasting schedule a try and see if your cognitive functions improve!
Get up and moving
The brain and the body are intimately connected. When one is out of shape, the other can suffer for it. If you want to give your brain an extra boost, try getting up and moving your body. Studies have shown that physical activity can promote neuroplasticity.
The skills you learn from playing sports like tennis or soccer can stimulate neural connections in your brain. Plus, the physical activity can improve your heart health and help you reach your recommended 30 minutes of cardio per week. You don’t have to run a marathon to see results. Even a brisk walk around the block or tossing a baseball around with your grandkids can do the trick! The key is to find a physical activity you enjoy doing and to do it regularly. Your body and brain will both reap the benefits.
Learn something new
Of course, you can also exercise your brain directly! Just like any other muscle in your body, the brain needs regular stimulation to remain strong. Learning new skills is one of the key aspects of stimulating neuroplasticity in the brain. The possibilities for promoting new neural pathways are endless. You could learn to play a musical instrument, practice speaking different languages, try out a new recipe in the kitchen, or even take a class online.
Playing specialized brain games is one of the best ways to give your brain a good workout. Even solving a crossword puzzle or a challenging sudoku game can provide the extra stimulation you need. So long as your brain is facing a challenge, then you’re promoting the growth of new neural connections. Just give new things a try and see what your brain can do!
Take a deep breath and meditate
Meditation is more than just a way to calm down. It’s an activity you can use to hone your brain’s focus and concentration. Meditating can improve your ability to focus on cognitive tasks by training you to stay present in the current moment. Practicing mindulness meditation can also ward off stress and anxiety, which can improve mental health. A calm brain is a healthy brain.
Meditation can even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and even increase memory recall. You can start seeing positive results in as little as a few weeks of regular practice! The next time you’re having a hard time concentrating, try meditating for a few minutes and see if your cognitive functions improve.
Get plenty of sleep
Just like every other age range, older adults need plenty of sleep too. Sleep is the vital period when our bodies take the time to recharge after a hard day’s work. It’s when the brain consolidates memories, solidifies learned experiences, and cleanses itself of harmful waste. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be sabotaging your efforts to create new neural connections in your brain.
Practicing healthy sleep habits can promote neuroplasticity and improve your overall cognitive health. Try to fall asleep at roughly the same time every night to establish routine. While foods like dark chocolate can promote brain health, the caffeine can keep you awake at night. Avoid eating caffeinated foods too close to bedtime to prevent sleep disturbances, and keep your brain-bossting snacks reserved for the daytime. If you need a nighttime snack that can help boost your sleep, try reaching for a handful of almonds to boos your melatonin production!
The bottom line for improving brain health
Cognitive decline doesn’t have to be your new reality with aging. With these techniques, you can take actionable steps to promote neurplasticity and improve your brain health naturally every day. All you have to do is give it a try!