improve brain health

How To Improve Brain Health

Brain health refers to the act of preserving optimal brain integrity along with mental and cognitive function at a given age. However, with age, brain health also tends to degrade. However, a few healthy measures can enable us to maintain our brain health even through our old age, thereby keeping mental health conditions at bay.


What Is Brain Health?

Brain health or cognitive health refers to an individual’s capability to function normally in various fields of his/her life. This can be categorized into professional, social, and personal aspects of his/her life. Be it solving any problem to taking a crucial decision, from interacting without any hesitation to managing various life problems, every small activity is defined by the health of the brain. A 2008 study 1 states that the human brain grows quickly in the early years of one’s life.

Poor brain health may be signified through conditions such as:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Intellectual developmental disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Traumatic injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Headache
  • Dementia
  • Neurological disorders resulting from malnutrition
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumors
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neuro-infections

Caring about one’s brain health by following a healthy lifestyle is perhaps the best option. Right from what we are eating to the type of people we choose to socialize, everything together defines our brain health. While practicing healthy habits will not only take care of our brain in the present but will also enable us to enjoy our later life devoid of any mental health conditions.

Tips To Improve Brain Health

Tips To Improve Brain Health


The brain is a complex organ with three levels of functions that influence various spheres of our daily lives. These are the interpretation of senses and direction of movement, maintenance of cognitive, mental, and emotional processes, and preservation of healthy habits and social cognition. Taking steps to improve brain health will help maintain these levels of functions, thus providing individuals with a normal life. Here are the ways with which one can enhance his/her mental health with small and steady steps.

1. Practice ‘Brainy’ Exercises

Just as they say ‘practice makes a man perfect’, in the same way, practicing stimulating brain activities will help maintain our brain health. Engaging in mentally energetic activities encourages new connections among multiple nerve cells along with generating new cells. This, in turn, fosters the development of neurological “plasticity” and functional reserve that shields the brain against any loss of cells in the future. Mentally stimulating activities such as solving riddles, puzzles, math problems, or even engaging in fun activities like painting, and art and craft can help in maintaining brain health. The types of activities that you can involve are:

A. Solve Jigsaw Puzzle

A 2018 study 2 shows that solving jigsaw puzzles improves multiple cognitive skills and is a shielding agent for visuospatial cognitive aging.

B. Play Cards

A study in 2015 3 on mentally stimulating activities for adults, says that a quick card game can result in larger brain volume in several regions of the brain, thus improving memory and thinking skills.

C. Build Vocabulary

A 2016 study 4 shows that many more regions of the brain are involved in vocabulary tasks, particularly in areas that are important for visual and auditory processing.

D. Engage All Your Senses

A 2015 research 5 implies that using all your senses through certain activities or by being mindfully aware may help stimulate your brain.

E. Learn New Skills

Learning new skills is fun and interesting. A 2014 study 6 shows that acquiring a new skill can improve memory function in older adults.

F. Listen or Play Music

According to a 2017 study, listening to lively tunes helps produce more innovative solutions as opposed to being in silence.

G. Acquire a New Language

A 2012 study 7 has highlighted the many cognitive benefits of being able to speak more than one language.

2. Physical Exercise

With stimulating brain activities, we must also make sure to add physical exercises to our daily routine. With regular body workouts, the number of tiny blood vessels increases that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Additionally, it also encourages the growth of new nerve cells and improves the connections between brain cells. As a result, it gives rise to a brain that is more efficient, adaptive, and plastic. It further enhances cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, alleviates mental stress, and balances blood sugar levels, for the well-being of the brain and the heart. According to a 2019 study 8 , physical activity “improves cognitive processes and memory, has analgesic and antidepressant effects, and even induces a sense of wellbeing.”

Here’s how one can workout daily to experience the best results:

  • Try to work out for 30 minutes daily. This can be distributed into multiple exercises such as swimming, dancing, walking, yoga, riding a bike, etc.
  • Foster some social stimulation by exercising with your friend
  • Engage in a body exercise that also requires the brain to act, such as learning dance by memorizing the steps

3. Let Your Diet Reflect Your Brain Health

Our brain is almost 60% fat 9 that encloses the nerve cells, and enables them to function properly. However, the fat we consume through our food tends to affect our heart, blood vessels, and brain, probably inducing inflammation and danger of dementia. Thus, here’s a guide as to what we should include in our diet for better brain health.

A. Avoid Saturated & Trans Fat

Needless to say, both these fats are extremely unhealthy for the human body as they may promote multiple diseases. Dairy food items like ice cream, butter, and cheese along with red meats contain saturated fat. Trans fats are common in fried food and processed goods such as crackers, chips, cookies, and pastries, which typically have a long shelf life. Also, control the consumption of omega 3 fats and omega 6 fats for better health.

B. Plant Based Diet

While it is not easy to shift to a plant-based diet 10 abruptly, a slow transition can help one to live with better brain health. Thus, one must add in slow but steady steps foods items like vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and whole-grain as the mainstay of the diet.

C. Increase Your Dietary Sources

Apart from adapting to a plant-based diet, one must also increase dietary sources of vitamins B12, D, and E. These will help maintain nerve and brain health. Sources like spinach, salmon, avocados, nuts, low-fat milk, or fortified juice are great for dietary vitamin D.

D. Make Water Your Best Friend

One study 11 has found that there is a clinical connection between dehydration and cognitive performance as the study suggests that “drinking extra water helps cognitive performance.” Staying hydrated is the key to healthy body, heart, and brain health. Thus, make sure to drink at least 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water per day to help your brain and body organs work optimally.

E. Enjoy Alcohol but in Moderation

Consuming alcohol in moderation may protect the brain from certain mental conditions. While women can enjoy 1 serving per day, men can enjoy up to 2 servings. Additionally, avoid tobacco and nicotine in all forms.

4. Up the Game of Your Social Networks

A study states that getting engaged in social activities can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Staying socially active with close ones and meeting new people with positive vibes affects cognition in a more indirect way.

A. Sense of connection

Regular socialization fosters the sense of connectedness, purpose, and belonging, thus reducing the feelings of despair and anxiety. Regular communication with close ones helps to stabilize the mood, which in turn supports cognition.

B. Physical wellbeing

Social interaction also goes hand in hand with physical activity, which is further good for the brain.

C. Isolation

Isolation may result in curbing one’s diet which may further cause malnutrition. It may negatively affect the brain. However, with regular social interaction, this can be avoided.

5. Stress Less

It is essential for us to be able to convey or express our feelings openly rather than stressing over things that we cannot control. Low-level chronic stress may result in increased heart disease and loss of brain cells. Here’s how you can stress less and take care of your feelings.

A. Know Your Stress

Be aware of your stress and understand the feeling of the same. This feeling can vary from feeling physical tension to headaches, insomnia to stomach aches backed by social withdrawal.

B. Breathe

Research 12 shows that “deep breathing technique is capable to induce an effective improvement in mood and stress.” When you feel stressed, take deep slow breaths. Breathe 13 in through your nose gradually one count of pause. Then, pause and breathe out slowly through your mouth by counting till six. Do this several times a day. In case you forget, set an alarm to remind you of the same.

C. Acknowledge Your Feelings

Avoid hiding your feelings from the world. Instead, accept your feelings and acknowledge your grief, sadness, or frustration, by discussing the same with your close ones. However, instead of staying focused on these feelings, consider moving on in your life.

D. Be Mindful

Notice your breathing, involve your senses, and enjoy every small detail of your surroundings.

E. Change is Good

Consider deviating from your regular pattern and distract yourself by doing something positive, even for 5 minutes. Train your pet, cook some sumptuous meal for yourself/ your close ones, engage in gardening, revisit your childhood memories or go out for a picnic.

F. Some Gratitude Meditation

You can also engage in some gratitude meditation practice every day before going to bed. Also, note down three things that make you feel grateful.

6. Get Enough Sleep

It is a known fact that 8 hours of sleep enables our mind and body to work optimally. According to a study, sleep is essential for an array of brain functions, including the pattern of communication between the nerve cells. “Experts will agree that one key element to maintaining brain health is an adult’s ability to sleep 7–8 h in a 24-h period,” explains a 2019 study 14 . However, this concept is commonly overlooked, thus leading us to stay awake with gadgets such as cell phones or laptops. Here are a few tips to experience sound sleep, thus fostering better brain health through old age:

  1. Curate for yourself rituals that will help you relax before going to bed at night. This can be taking a warm bath, eating comfort food, meditation, or reading something relaxing.
  2. Make it a point to wake up every day at the same time, even on weekends. Also, avoid taking naps in between and if you at all have to sleep, you can take a short nap of 20 minutes.
  3. Get out of bed if you find it difficult to sleep within 20 minutes. Instead, engage in relaxing activities and go back to bed once you feel sleepy.
  4. Avoid screens of all forms when you go to bed- mobile phone, TV, or even laptop.
  5. If you consume sleeping pills, use them cautiously. You must not use it for more than three weeks.

7. Know Your Medications

As we enter old age, our brains become susceptible to the unfavorable impacts of certain medications. Thus, older people should be especially cautious when it comes to these three classes of medications, as mentioned below.

A. Forensic Psychology

Used to treat conditions like mood and sleep disorder, asthma, muscle spasms and others, these block 15 the transmitter acetylcholine.

B. Benzodiazepines

These 16 help with stress and promote sleep. However, it may result in impaired cognition/memory, dependence, and adverse withdrawal symptoms.

C. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Used commonly to treat osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease which can be replaced with acetaminophen (APAP), NSAIDs 17 are recommended as first-line treatment for mild to moderate pain.

Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind

Good brain health is the key to a content life. Given the fact that the brain is the master of all the body organs and that it controls other organs, we must first make sure to keep our brain healthy to enjoy our lives to the fullest.

References:
  1. Brain function. ScienceDirect.com | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/brain-function []
  2. Fissler, P., Küster, O. C., Laptinskaya, D., Loy, L. S., von Arnim, C., & Kolassa, I. T. (2018). Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 10, 299. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2018.00299 []
  3. Schultz, S. A., Larson, J., Oh, J., Koscik, R., Dowling, M. N., Gallagher, C. L., Carlsson, C. M., Rowley, H. A., Bendlin, B. B., Asthana, S., Hermann, B. P., Johnson, S. C., Sager, M., LaRue, A., & Okonkwo, O. C. (2015). Participation in cognitively-stimulating activities is associated with brain structure and cognitive function in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Brain imaging and behavior, 9(4), 729–736. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-014-9329-5 []
  4. Anderson, T. A. (2016). (PDF) Vocabulary and the brain: Evidence from neuroimaging studies. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311222670_Vocabulary_and_the_Brain_Evidence_from_Neuroimaging_Studies []
  5. Quak, M., London, R. E., & Talsma, D. (2015). A multisensory perspective of working memory. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 9, 197. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00197 []
  6. Park, D. C., Lodi-Smith, J., Drew, L., Haber, S., Hebrank, A., Bischof, G. N., & Aamodt, W. (2014). The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: the Synapse Project. Psychological science, 25(1), 103–112. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613499592 []
  7. (( Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2012, 13. []
  8. Di Liegro, C. M., Schiera, G., Proia, P., & Di Liegro, I. (2019). Physical Activity and Brain Health. Genes, 10(9), 720. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes10090720 []
  9. Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41. PMID: 20329590. []
  10. Medawar, E., Huhn, S., Villringer, A., & Veronica Witte, A. (2019). The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Translational psychiatry, 9(1), 226. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0 []
  11. Sécher M, Ritz P. Hydration and cognitive performance. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012 Apr;16(4):325-9. doi: 10.1007/s12603-012-0033-0. PMID: 22499450. []
  12. Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, Buscemi A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19. PMID: 27995346. []
  13. Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, Buscemi A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19. PMID: 27995346. []
  14. Mintzer, J., Donovan, K. A., Kindy, A. Z., Lock, S. L., Chura, L. R., & Barracca, N. (2019). Lifestyle Choices and Brain Health. Frontiers in medicine, 6, 204. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2019.00204 []
  15. Ghossein N, Kang M, Lakhkar AD. Anticholinergic Medications. [Updated 2020 May 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555893/ []
  16. Bounds CG, Nelson VL. Benzodiazepines. [Updated 2020 Nov 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470159/ []
  17. Ghlichloo I, Gerriets V. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) [Updated 2020 May 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547742/ []
Scroll to Top