6 Steps to Better Brain Health
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Brain health guides us through changes in life, it is fundamental to healthy aging and is a top concern for older adults regardless of their current cognitive ability. Our overall functioning and independence relies strongly on keeping our brain functioning at its best as we age.
We once thought there was little we could do to improve our brain functioning as we age, but current research shows us that specific lifestyle choices and actions can improve the health and level of functioning of our brains, at any age.
Keeping our brains at their best takes more than just crossword puzzles and cognitive exercises; the decisions we make throughout the day regarding sleep, food, and movement also have a significant impact on how our brains function. Some of these daily changes to our routine and lifestyle can be easily implemented to protect your brain now and for years to come.
In each of our Senior Lifestyle communities we offer a Brain Health University program that features learning and practice in 6 elements of a brain healthy lifestyle. Participants in our Brain Health University are encouraged to take an active role in maintaining their own cognitive functioning by learning what is in their control. Let us look at these 6 elements of a brain healthy lifestyle and learn what you can do today to keep your brain functioning at its best.
Physical Activity: Our brains need oxygen rich blood to function properly. Many older adults do not get the recommended amount of daily movement which can impact our physical health as well as our cognitive health. “Exercise affects the brain in many ways. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It aids the release of hormones which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain.” – Brock Armstrong. Make a plan each day to get your heart rate up by taking a walk, dancing to your favorite song, or even a chair-based strength routine, your brain will thank you!
Cognitive Exercises: It comes as no surprise that including cognitive games, puzzles and reading in your daily routine has a strong correlation to optimal brain health. Do not forget to vary your routine, our brains need variety and challenge to be stimulated to grow.
"Challenging your brain to learn something new—such as a foreign language or a musical instrument—has been shown, both in healthy individuals and patients dealing with mild cognitive impairment, to improve brain structures and neuroplasticity," Dr. Dumitrascu
Sleep Health: Interrupted sleep is a common problem for many adults. I am sure you know the foggy feeling you may get when you have not had a decent night of sleep. Think about your evening routine and your sleep schedule: is there anything you can adjust in your routine to get better sleep? Exercise early in the day helps regulate your sleep schedule, deep breathing or meditation can help you relax before sleep, and managing environmental factors such as noise, light and temperature are all ways to get a better night of sleep. “Recent research suggests ongoing sleep deficits could take a considerable toll on the brain. Experts agree quality sleep is critical to cognitive function, especially in the short term. Studies show sleep deprivation hinders learning, impairs cognitive performance, and slows reaction time—like being intoxicated but without the buzz”— AMY PATUREL, M.S., M.P.H
Stress Management: Living with unmanaged stress can have a significant impact on our mental health including our executive functions of the brain. Try some deep breathing exercises, yoga, or journaling to manage stress in your life. “There is evidence that chronic (persistent) stress may actually rewire your brain, says Dr. Ressler. Scientists have learned that animals that experience prolonged stress have less activity in the parts of their brain that handle higher-order tasks — for example, the prefrontal cortex — and more activity in the primitive parts of their brain that are focused on survival, such as the amygdala.”-Harvard Health Publishing
Nutrition and Diet: learning about foods that can help, or harm brain functions is an important part of keeping your brain healthy. Try to limit processed and fried foods, while adding more protein dense foods, antioxidant rich foods, and green tea to your diet. “The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain function.”- Lana Burgess
Check out 12 Foods to Boost Brain Function, a medically reviewed by Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. and written by Lana Burgess, published January 2, 2020 in Medical News Today.
Social Connections: Having other people to interact with throughout the day is an important part of keeping your brain healthy. While interacting with others we are actively listening, thinking, forming responses, and making decisions. This is an important element that can sometimes be overlooked. Make time each day to connect with others, if you cannot be in person with family or peers then reach out by phone, video chat, or visit with a neighbor or even a pet. “Social engagement with at least one other relative or friend activates specific brain regions needed to recognize familiar faces and emotions, make decisions and feel rewarded.”- Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.
These 6 lifestyle factors are critical to healthy brain functioning regardless of your current age or cognitive ability. Think about your daily routine in relation to these 6 elements of a brain healthy lifestyle and choose at least one or two ways to support better brain health for yourself today.
1. GET-FIT GUY BROCK ARMSTRONG, How Exercise Affects Your Brain
2. Dr. Dumitrascu, Do Brain Games Help Brain Health? By Kyle Beswick https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/brain-games.html
3. AMY PATUREL, M.S., M.P.H., The Benefits of Sleep for Brain Health
4. Harvard Health Publishing, Protect Your Brain From Stress
5. Written by Lana Burgess Medically reviewed by Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D., 12 Foods to Boost Brain Function, January 2, 2020, Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324044
6. Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., New Study Shows Social Connections Improve Your Brain Health,