As we age, all of us experience some diminishment of our cognitive abilities. That means our ability to carry out tasks, to remember important events, or to plan complex actions declines. But scientists now believe that we can strengthen the brain to help reduce this slowing down of our mental processes1.
In fact, a few studies have shown that having an active lifestyle – socially, mentally, and physically–can have a positive effect on your brain and may protect against things like dementia and Alzheimer’s2.
Here are a few tips on what you can do to boost your brain power.
1- Eat right
Your brain is a machine that is on 24/7, 365 days a year. It never takes a break, it never stops working, and it never sleeps. This means your brain needs a constant supply of fuel which comes in the form of the food that we eat. It makes sense that you would want a machine to have the highest quality fuel, and your brain is no different. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will nourish the brain and protect it from free radicals that damage its cells3.
Even if you’re able to stick to a healthy diet, be sure to add vitamin supplements to your daily routine. They contain everything from iron and omega-3s to lesser known nutrients that you may not be getting in adequate amounts.
2- Play games
Current research suggests that playing games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and vision (in relation to movement)4.
Video games are not just for kids. New generation games cater to everyone from toddlers to centenarians, and you can play Jeopardy just as easily as you can play Nintendo Wii. Additionally, you don’t have to spend hours staring at the screen to receive its benefits. Studies have found that just 15-60 minutes a week can have a positive effect5. Focus on games that make you think and engage your brain.
3- Learn a new language
As children, our brains are like sponges, and we’re able to soak up new information at astronomical rates. Getting older means our ability to soak up new information isn’t as strong, but it’s still there. Researchers at a British university found that learning a second language ‘slows brain aging’6. Have you ever wanted to learn French? Or try out your lingual skills in the streets of Rome? Set a goal for yourself and make it a reality. They’re lots of free (or cheap) online language courses to help you get started.
4- Be social
Not the social media kind of social but the face-to-face kind of social. Human beings are social creatures, and we need to constantly interact with one another. While social media has many great uses, it still lacks the human-to-human connection that we all need. But why is this important? Social isolation is a risk factor (or may contribute to) poor overall brain performance and faster cognitive decline7.
Even if you’re an introvert or don’t have a large circle of friends, make it a priority to get out more. Join a local social group and pick up a new hobby. Do you like walking? Join a walking group. Cooking? Take some cooking classes. Reading? Join a book club. The key is to think of an activity or hobby you like to engage in and find a small group of people you can share that hobby with.
5- Commit to exercise
Exercise isn’t just for the body. It’s for the brain as well. In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus–the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning8.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t8.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that people who performed meditation and yoga had less brain atrophy than those who did not. Meditation can increase protective tissue in the brain, make you feel less stressed, and reduce the hormone cortisol, which has been known to increase the risk of developing dementia9.
1- Harada, C. N., Natelson Love, M. C., & Triebel, K. (2013). Normal Cognitive Aging. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 29(4), 737–752. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cger.2013.07.002
2- Fratiglioni L, Paillard-Borg S, Winblad B. An active and socially integrated lifestyle in late life might protect against dementia. Lancet neurology. 2004;3:343–53. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15157849
3- Harvard Health Blog. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Eva Selhub MD, Contributing Editor. Nov 2015. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
4- Science News. Video games can change your brain. Studies investigating how playing video games can affect the brain have shown that they can cause changes in many brain regions. June 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170622103824.htm
5- Stanmore, E., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., de Bruin, E. D., & Firth, J. (2017). The effect of active video games on cognitive functioning in clinical and non-clinical populations: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014976341730129X
6- BBC News. Learning second language ‘slows brain ageing’. 2 June 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27634990
7- Cacioppo, J. T., & Hawkley, L. C. (2009). Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447–454. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2009.06.005 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752489/
8- Harvard Health Blog. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Heidi Godman. April 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015335/ http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
9- Medscape. Music and Meditation May Slow Cognitive Decline. Fran Lowry. February 01, 2017. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/875220