Our brain is one of the most amazing organs in our body. Still not completely explored, it is responsible for our entire system to function properly and remains therefore one of the most interesting organs for scientists. Over our life span, our brain undergoes various developmental changes, and it’s still able to build new cells at a high age, while other organs lose this capacity over time. Keeping our brain healthy should therefore be in our highest interest. As with many things, it won’t suffice to simply “eat more vegetables”, as the brain is a complex fellow and demands various stimuli to remain at its full capacity. Our brain can be trained just like any other muscle, which requires certain stimuli to adapt and become stronger, or endure more work. Train it, use it, challenge it, and you can keep it active, healthy and even growing.
Here comes a list of the most important actions for keeping your brain healthy:
1. Drink more water. As our brain consists of roughly 75% water, it is only logical that we need lots of it to make our processor run smoothly. Water helps to deliver nutrients to our brain, and it flushes out toxins that can accumulate over time. The more water we drink, the better our brain is equipped for fulfilling its daily tasks. Staying hydrated is therefore one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure our cerebral function. We all know this by just observing how we operate during dehydration. Thinking feels harder and most people develop a headache which subsides simply by drinking water. To learn more about the benefits of drinking water, head to my post Why I Turned Water Into My Favorite Drink.
2. Improve your diet. As I said earlier, eating better won’t be enough for your brain to stay at high performance, but it ensures that all relevant building blocks are available. Reducing our consumption of meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, fried foods and generally fast food leads to a healthier and better working brain. Red meat increases the risk of Alzheimer’s, while fast food leads to a higher risk for depression and dementia. The saturated fats contained in many fast and fried foods calcify our arteries, thus triggering inflammation processes in our brain. Increasing our intake of healthy foods will naturally lead to more vital cells, less inflammation and a reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Experts recommend eating a broad variety of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados and nuts. These foods are our brain’s best friends and I will dive deeper into some of the healthiest foods for our brain in the next paragraph.
- Blueberries repair our cells, as they contain a lot of anthocyanin, which is an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant phytochemical. Oxidative stress can lead to your brain cells aging much faster, which may result in neurodegenerative diseases.
- Cauliflower and broccoli are both great cruciferous vegetables for fighting cognitive degeneration due to pollution. They contain choline as well as vitamin B5, both of which enhance mental performance.
- Nuts are high in omega 3 fatty acids as well as anti-oxidants and vitamin E. These micro nutrients are essential for vital brain functions when we age. Alternate between different types of nuts, as they all have their individual ratios of healthy substances. Cashew nuts and walnuts are among the most recommended for cerebral health.
- Spinach is one of the miracle foods for our brain: It is high in potassium, which improves the conductivity among neurons. This means that neurons can transmit information faster, which leads to faster reaction times or faster thinking. Furthermore, it contains folic acid, magnesium and both vitamin E and K, which prevent dementia.
- Olive oil and avocado are both great sources of omega 3 fatty acids and therefore a natural booster for brain health. They have a positive impact on neurons and their conductivity and reduce inflammation.
- Whole grains, such as whole meal bread, brown rice or oats, are complex carbohydrates and thus deliver long-term energy for the brain. The high content of vitamin E in whole grain products protects the brain from tissue damage.
- Sweet potatoes contain glutathione, which is a tripeptide made of the three amino acids glutamine, cysteine and glycine, all of which fight free radicals and eliminate toxins from our body and especially brain.
- What about fish? Recommending fatty fish, such as sardines, salmon, tuna or herring, is quite popular among nutritionists because of their allegedly high omega 3 amount. Fish usually get their omega 3 from algae and seaweed, which is the actual omega 3 source. However, most fish that we consume nowadays don’t even contain that much omega 3 anymore, because cultured fish are being fed mostly omega 6 oils. Moreover, eating a lot of farmed fish can lead to a toxic overload of mercury, so be careful when enjoying your sushi or tuna salad. I recommend to get your omega 3 from high quality algae and seaweed oil (made of algae and seaweed instead of fish).
Other great foods for your brain are carrots, raspberries, lettuce, (red) peppers, lentils, peas, eggs, beans, strawberries and raw cacao. Stick to the rainbow of healthy vegetables, fruits and healthy fats, and you’re bound to achieve the best possible brain health.
3. Exercise. Moving your body will increase the oxygen content in your blood vessels and therefore in your brain, which is essential for brain health. Exercise will also trigger the creation of new nerve cells, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and reduce mental stress, all of which have a great effect on your brain.
4. Reduce stress. I’m certain, this is not new for you, as reducing stress will in so many ways have a positive effect on your overall health. If we suffer from too much stress for too long, our body becomes unable to fight the stress hormone cortisol. This may lead to a destruction of the body substance and depletion of healthy cells. There are various methods to lower stress, such as breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, yoga or elimination of specific stress factors. Gardening can also have a massively positive effect on your mental health, as you can read in my post The Healing Powers of Nature and Gardens.
5. Keep your brain active. As much as your body needs physical exercise, so does your brain need mental exercise. Engaging your brain even when you get older (remember: You never stop learning) is a vital element of keeping a healthy brain. Challenging your cognitive performance and stimulating your brain cells and neurons will essentially help your brain generate new cells and prevent cell damage in the long run. You are never too old to learn a new language or instrument, acquire a new skill or start to craft something with your hands. Experimenting with things that require mental effort will keep your brain strong and fit.
6. Improve your sleep quality. Again, this might not be entirely new to you, but it is worth mentioning. We all know that good quality sleep is essential for a healthy body and mind as we rejuvenate and regenerate during sleep. People with poor sleep quality sometimes suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, memory loss and concentration problems. To avoid mental hick ups and become calmer and more focused, try to cultivate a better sleep environment and getting enough sleep. I’ve written about sleep before, so if you seek more info check out my post Sleep Tight, Tiger. Eight Tips for Better Sleep.
7. Stay social. No matter how stressed or busy you sometimes feel – always make time for friends, family and “social cuddles”. It is of utmost importance for your overall and especially brain health to maintain social contacts, laugh with people, tie bonds and feel connected to other humans, dogs, cats or any animal that you prefer. According to the Harvard Medical School, “Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy.” (https://bit.ly/3eTlD1o).