12 Foods and Activities Proven to Improve Your Brain Health
Brain health encompasses different branches, affecting our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. From motor to cognitive functions, sensory capabilities, social-emotional and behavioral aspects, these functions depend on our brain health and require a healthy lifestyle to work optimally. Functioning with a healthy brain is essential because it is a state we need to understand what we are capable of in life, no matter what challenges we face.
Our brain health is essential to our physical, emotional, and mental health. One study suggests that our mental sharpness is better when the brain functions at its best. We have better memory and thinking capabilities and overall positive life satisfaction.
Another significant link observed by researchers is that when people have a positive attitude, the risk of Alzheimer's disease is low.
A healthy brain depends on a healthy lifestyle encompassing various habits. These include consuming a nutritious diet, promoting optimal cognitive function, exercising regularly, and leading a life where stress is not a constant. Understanding what your brain needs to function at its best is critical.
The food choices and activities listed below might seem difficult to adopt. Still, they will contribute significantly to your overall health conditions and ensure you grow older while functioning at your best.
When you exercise regularly, your whole being benefits. Beyond improving our physical health and lowering the risk of chronic diseases, physical activity does wonders for our emotional and mental health. Exercise helps us manage stress and anxiety, thus reducing the risk of depression. No matter what your preferred exercise is, regular physical activity releases endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain that work like natural painkillers.
Our cognitive function can benefit from physical activities as well. In one study, researchers noted how the risk of dementia increased when individuals were not physically active at 45. Promoting cognitive stimulation through physical activity is how you can improve your brain health, as exercise can help prevent primary, secondary, and tertiary cognitive decline.
To create a long-term habit, identify an activity that brings you joy. Getting your 10,000 steps a day is one way to start. You can join a HIIT class or opt for a gentler exercise like yoga and pilates.
Cognitive stimulation is a term medical professionals use to refer to an intervention involving activities that people with Alzheimer's can do to improve their cognitive functions, like concentration, thinking, and memory. You can benefit from these activities to ensure your risk of Alzheimer's is low.
There are general brain exercises you can do, like puzzles, word games, or solving mathematical problems. Reminiscing with others about past events also trains the brain to remain sharp. Then there are more specific cognitive exercises that target dementia.
You can invest in exercise workbooks. These books have different training games to promote reasoning, problem-solving, memory, attention, and orientation. You can find similar exercises on apps built to challenge the mind to keep it sharp. Lumosity, Elevate, and NeuroNation are a few examples of apps that help your brain stay fit.
There are various diets, but an excellent point to remember is that the more fresh and less processed the ingredients you eat are, the healthier you will be.
Identifying which diet best suits your lifestyle and digestive health is the first step toward your well-being. Be more attentive to how your body feels after you eat certain foods, or you can visit a certified nutritionist to guide you toward the best foods.
Several studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet is the best for brain health. This diet includes critical ingredients for optimal brain wellness, not to mention its physical, mental, and emotional impact. More than a diet, it is a lifestyle encompassing nutritious ingredients like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish, and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil.
The advantages of the Mediterranean diet on the body are highly beneficial. Studies show how this diet can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke because it limits the amount of processed food, meat, and refined carbs you eat.
More importantly, the Mediterranean diet includes superfoods for the brain. The following are 12 foods included in the Mediterranean diet which can boost your brain health:
Fatty fish: Salmon, herring, and other fatty fish are rich in Omega 3, a critical fatty acid that sustains memory function, learning, cognitive health, and blood flow in the brain.
Avocados: A great source of unsaturated fat, avocados can improve retinal lutein accumulation and cognitive function.
Vitamin E-rich plant oils, like flaxseed oil, are excellent omega-3-rich sources if you prefer something other than fish.
Wholegrains like barley, quinoa, and oats contain B vitamins that lower brain inflammation.
Berries: As the brain uses up to 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe, it also needs the help of antioxidants to protect it from free radicals from secondhand smoking and pollution. Berries provide a rich source of antioxidants.
Olive oil: Besides being an antioxidant and vitamin E rich, olive oil also boosts critical chemicals in the brain, namely nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
Nuts and seeds: Rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds are a stellar snack for the brain.
Leafy greens, like spinach and kale, contain critical nutrients like beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lutein, vitamin K, nitrate, and folate, which researchers link to cognitive wellness.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids that can improve blood flow in the brain. Moreover, this sweet treat contains compounds that can boost attention span, problem-solving skills, and memory.
Honey: Besides its immunity benefits, honey can improve memory to treat the early onset of cognitive deterioration and dementia.
Eggs contain lutein and choline, which are two critical nutrients for brain development, learning, and memory.
Natural supplements: Although they will never substitute a well-balanced diet, some natural supplements are useful to boost brain health. Natural products like Morilite can boost memory functions and learning abilities.
Statistics show how stress is predominant in Malaysian citizens, as it is in many countries worldwide. The impact of chronic stress on our well-being is saddening. Stress can lower our immune system, change our reactions to people and situations, and decrease our energy levels. Stress can make us less focused and cause brain fog, lead us to abuse alcohol or drugs, and change our appetite.
Chronic stress leads to a chemical imbalance in the brain, affecting cognitive functions by making it harder to make decisions while triggering an imbalance in mood. Moreover, our mental health is at greater risk of disorders like anxiety and depression if our stress levels are relentless.
For optimal brain health, you must manage the stress levels in your life. One way to lower stress is to follow the former points. Moreover, choose to cut out the things or people causing you stress. Learning deep breathing techniques and mindfulness practices is another way to lower stress. Being grateful and surrounding yourself with people who support you and make you laugh is also essential.
The Role of Neuroprotective Treatments in Brain Health
Several studies highlight the critical role of neuroprotective treatments for brain health. Neuroprotection refers to the strategies and mechanisms adopted to protect the central nervous system (CNS) from injury. Medical professionals embrace these therapies to lower the risk of cell death by using intervention and inhibition to avoid a pathogenetic cascade that leads to cell dysfunction.
There are two classes of injuries the brain can suffer. The first is acute, and examples include a stroke or trauma. The second is injuries caused by chronic neurodegenerative disorders.
Neuroprotective treatments promote cognitive functions and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. Ingredients rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic properties, like melatonin and erythropoietin, are examples of neuroprotective agents. Further research shows that iron chelators, antioxidant rich-foods, and gene therapy are other examples of neuroprotective treatments.
Research shows that red wine is a rich antioxidant beverage that can regulate our blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol, and keep our memory sharp, but it does not mean we have free reign over how much alcohol we should drink. Moderate drinking is vital to maintain your cognitive functions and keep the risk of Alzheimer's disease low.
When you drink alcohol in large quantities, your whole body and brain suffer. Binge drinking or drinking too much alcohol regularly over several years can cause brain damage. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) can affect people as young as 40. Brain damage can include:
Damage to nerve cells.
Low levels of vitamin B1.
Damage to blood vessels.
An increased risk of head injuries.
These can lead to alcohol-related stroke, dementia, and traumatic brain injury.
When you learn new things like an instrument or a language, you challenge your brain and refine your cognitive skills. The more challenges you give your brain, the denser the myelin levels in your brain become. Myelin is a layer found around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Fatty acids and proteins make up this insulating layer, which allows electrical impulses to transmit efficiently along the nerve cells, improving cognitive skills and mental health.
The Remarkable Impact of Mindfulness Practices on the Brain
In one remarkable study, researchers observed how non-experienced meditators saw an improvement in their memory and attention when they prioritized a brief daily meditation. Although meditation is the most popular practice, you can include other mindfulness practices to strengthen your brain health and overall well-being, including journaling, yoga, walking meditation, and Tai Chi.
Studies show that the impact of poor sleep is immediately felt, but it also has long-term effects. Daytime sleepiness is the most common symptom, but there is a higher risk of hypertension, anxiety, depression, and obesity. Further studies show how sleepiness leads to impaired memory, whether recalling short or long-term, and lack of focus.
Based on 2017 stats, 29.2 percent of adults in Malaysia and 12.1 percent of children are experiencing mental health challenges. Observing, rather than reacting to our feelings, is essential to living a serene life, but it does not mean we should avoid our emotional health.
Anxiety and depression are two ways our minds can make us suffer, and these disorders can cause significant damage to the brain.
One study shows that cognitive decline in relation to anxiety and depression leads to a higher risk of dementia. Addressing your mental health issues is essential. Speak to a professional about your struggles, call a local helpline, and be honest with your loved ones.
Loneliness plays a role in our brain health too. Studies show that lonely people have a higher risk of dementia. Having social interaction is how you can lead a prosperous life and enjoy good brain health. Start by surrounding yourself with people who support you.
If you feel a lack of support, be the person helping others. Visit shelters, homes for older people, and other communities where you can be there for others.
Although you may need a few reminders, an accountability buddy, or a good schedule on your calendar, it is possible to adopt these habits to lead a healthy lifestyle. Your cognitive functions, mental health, and the rest of your body need the care of nourishing food, physical activity, mindfulness practices, and other good habits to thrive at optimal levels.
Only once you dive into these healthy habits can you experience life on a richer level, where stress and anxiety are not overwhelming, and you know what you are capable of.