Some forgetfulness – such as occasionally forgetting to pay a bill or difficulty remembering a word – can be expected at any age. But cognitive decline — such as constantly struggling to remember monthly bills or staying focused on conversations — isn’t a natural part of aging, according to the National Institute on Aging.
The truth is, your mind, like your physical body, is always capable of changing for better or worse. And the degree and nature of that change has less to do with age and more to do with action.
It is well known that if you train consistently you can improve your body’s performance. For example, with the right training program, you can improve the speed at which you run a mile or increase the amount of weight you can lift.
However, if you don’t exercise and spend hours sitting every day, it will lead to negative health implications, such as increased risk of stroke, studies have shown.
What many people don’t realize is that, as with your body, your mind’s performance improves with proper and consistent training. Likewise, when you don’t receive enough stimulation, your brain becomes less able to reach optimal levels and more susceptible to decline.
You have the power to train your mind to sharpen and help protect it from degeneration in the future. Read the five science-proven strategies you can start using today to build a stronger brain. They are based on the “Five Pillars of Brain Health,” as described in CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s book, “Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age.”
1- Move your body
When it comes to training your brain, your body is an essential part of the formula. And exercise is the most important thing anyone can do to improve brain function and disease resilience, according to Gupta.
Why are exercise so important to your brain? In his book, Gupta cites controlling blood sugar and reducing inflammation:
“Using sugar to feed your muscles instead of sitting idle in your blood helps prevent dramatic fluctuations in glucose and insulin, which increase your risk of dementia. Exercise also helps to reduce inflammation, and this is critical in preventing dementia. ”
In addition, exercise has many other brain health benefits supported by science, such as the release of brain chemicals that boost mood and decrease stress hormone production. Physical activity also stimulates the release of growth factors involved in healthy function and production of all cells, including brain cells.
This doesn’t mean you need to become an ultramarathoner or weightlifter to reap the benefits. Ideally, you should meet the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to do 150 minutes of exercise a week, but just a few minutes of movement a day will improve your brain health as well as your overall well-being.
A recent study found that just 11 minutes of exercise a day can increase your life expectancy. To adjust the minutes of activity you’re allotted and stick with them, explore different ways to get moving so you don’t get bored. If you’re new to exercise or just getting back to it, make it easy for you with a training program that works for you.
2- Stimulate your mind
The saying “use it or lose it” applies to your body and brain. Keeping the brain sharp means keeping it constantly actively engaged. In his book, Gupta cites a French study of nearly half a million people, according to which people who retired at age 65 had a 15% lower risk of developing dementia than those who retired five years earlier.
The research also reinforces that the quality of brain engagement is important for building long-term brain resilience. This means going a step beyond the mere demand of remembering a crossword puzzle and engaging in activities that require reasoning, problem solving and acquiring new knowledge.
If you’ve always wanted to learn another language, that’s a big boost. Consider trying something new with an online cooking class, starting a new hobby, or reading a nonfiction book that is outside your scope of expertise.
You can also try online brain games that involve speed training. Unlike puzzles, which only help with memory work, speed processing games have been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
3- Rest your body and brain
Sleep is not just a period of rest, but an essential restorative process that affects every system in the body. This is especially true for the brain, which relies on quality deep sleep every night for memory consolidation.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 3 Americans do not get the recommended seven or more hours of sleep per night. The good news is that doing the regular daily exercises recommended above to improve your brain health will help you sleep better.
Because deep breathing helps you explore the parasympathetic “rest and restoration” aspect of the nervous system, you can leverage breathing to help you sleep.
Another important aspect of resting your brain is giving it regular breaks from stress. This is vital for brain health, as a high level of the stress hormone cortisol is linked to brain inflammation, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, exercise has been shown to be an effective pain reliever. Other research-supported stress-relief activities include meditation, deep breathing, and mind-body practices such as yoga and tai chi.
4- Fuel your brain
There is no denying that the foods and beverages we consume can have positive or negative health implications. As such, consuming certain foods and limiting others can help promote brain health and prevent brain decline.
The Mediterranean diet, for example, can limit the risk of dementia, found a study published in the journal Neurology. This way of eating limits processed foods and red meats in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and extra virgin olive oil.
That said, given the challenges of conducting nutrition studies, there is still not enough valid research to show a clear and direct correlation between a particular dietary style and better brain health.
Consequently, in his book, Gupta doesn’t point to any one diet plan as better than another, but instead gives general nutrition advice based on current science, which he describes using the acronym SHARP:
Research into the negative health implications of excess sugar abounds, but controlling blood sugar is also an important component of brain health, as diabetes shows a strong link to dementia risk. Gupta notes that “many well-designed studies have found that people with high blood sugar levels had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal levels.”
H: Hydrate smartly
Even moderate dehydration is associated with cognitive deficits, so it’s important to stay hydrated.
A: Add omega-3s from natural sources
Fatty fish are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that forms harmful clumps in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
A: Reduce portions
Controlling food portions is an important aspect of brain health, as obesity is associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Q: Plan meals in advance
Planning ahead allows us to keep brain health in mind when we set our menus, helping us make better choices about the foods we eat.
5- Connect with other people
Over the years, several studies have shown that strong social relationships contribute to a healthier and happier life. But when it comes to brain health, recent research has shown that these relationships also increase neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, improve and preserve its cognitive abilities.
Humans are social animals, so it’s not surprising that relationships play a role in brain health. It is important to actively cultivate existing relationships, through communication, regulate and promote new relationships, participating in new activities.
You can double your brain-boosting benefits by socializing in a gym class or joining a book club or hobby group. You should feel empowered to take control of your brain’s health starting today. Taking proactive steps to improve your brain’s health and performance will be helpful for many years to come.
(Translated text. Read the original in English)