Brain health is critical as we age. Keeping our brain stimulated and active is an important measure to prevent late-life diseases like alzheimers and dementia. There are a variety of ways to improve cognitive function for optimal brain health.
It used to be a widely held belief that we had a limited capacity to learn and retain new information as we age. However, studies indicate that neuroplasticity proves that we create new pathways for learning over the course of our lifetime. So what was once a “set” way of being can now change, no matter how young or old.
Interestingly, how capable we are of actually changing depends on our individual mindset. It’s like the little engine that could. If we adopt a mindset of “I think I can, I think I can” we are more likely to change. If we are closed to change, our growth is minimal and we do not improve cognitive function.
Think Health suggests five important practices to support brain health: a growth mindset, physical activity, emotional wellbeing, nutritious eating, and sleeping restoratively. Let’s dive in deeper.
Embrace a growth mindset
Be willing and open to change. Try new things. Engage in new experiences. And believe you can change! Continuous learning is an effective way to improve cognitive function by strengthening your brain muscle, developing persistence, and staying open to new ideas. Seek opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and engage in life differently than you normally would.
Stay physically active
Exercise is another way to improve cognitive function. Studies reveal that the brain volume grows with regular exercise, particularly in the hippocampus where memories are made and stored. Exercise does not have to be vigorous to have impact. Walking and gentle aerobic exercise can be enough to improve cognitive function.
A healthy diet can support or deplete our brain health. Since food has restorative properties at a cellular level, foods like leafy greens, fatty fish, berries, and even coffee support our brain well. To improve your cognitive function with healthy eating, consider leaning into plants and supplementing with meat and other sides at your meals. Snack on walnuts and seeds during the day for a boost of energy and clarity.
Get quality sleep
While sleep quantity is important (getting at least 7 hours each night), the quality of our sleep determines how impactful our rest is on our body and brain health. Cycling through the 4 stages of sleep multiple types each night is critical in our quest to improve cognitive function. Memory retention and recall require both non-REM (the first 3 stages) and REM sleep (the final stage), which is why deep sleep matters.
Stress wreaks havoc on our brain health. Anxiety, stress, and depression lead to poor health overall, including cognitive function. Cortisol, in particular, is especially damaging to the brain. Reducing stress keeps this hormone in check so that we can tend to our emotional wellbeing and improve cognitive function.
While there are many ways to improve cognitive function, lifestyle choices play the biggest role in brain health. Keep a growth mindset, stay active, eat well, get some sleep, and tend to your stress for a stronger, healthier brain.