4 ways to protect your brain health as you age

If you watch the news often enough, you’ll hear plenty of information about the rise in dementia and other aspects of brain health. But there are steps you can take to safeguard your brain as you age.

Memory loss and other cognitive issues are not a required part of aging.

While there are certain factors in your health and your family history that can make developing brain conditions more likely, in many cases, you can help limit your risk.

Let’s a look at four key ways you can make a positive impact on your brain.

Brain health booster 1: Take care of your heart

Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about your brain and your heart.

Over the years, research has shown that many of the same lifestyle habits that are harmful to your heart are also harmful to your brain. So, the same principle goes for healthy lifestyle habits.

Protect your heart and your brain by:

  • maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • getting to and sticking with a healthy weight
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • not smoking
  • getting plenty of sleep

Brain health booster 2: Become physically active

This one’s a healthy lifestyle habit that earns its own spot in our list of tips — because it’s that important.

When you think of your brain, exercise may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But maybe it should be.

Research has shown that physical activity has a positive impact on the way our brain works and helps protect our brain health as we age.

In fact, a recent study from the University of British Columbia found that regular physical activity boosts the size of the hippocampus in the brain, which is involved in both memory and learning. In short — the study found that exercise protects our memory and our thinking skills.

While this study pertained to aerobic (or cardiac) activity, other types of exercise, including balance training and strength training, also play a key role in good health.

Brain health booster 3: Stay mentally active

Using your brain may be just as important as using your body when it comes to brain health. So, exercise it regularly.

Challenge your brain with puzzles and games. Learn new skills and develop new hobbies — anything to use your mind in new and different ways.

Volunteer or do other activities that allow you to stay socially active. Recent research has revealed that isolation and a lack of socialization can actually be just as dangerous for your health as many health conditions. Remaining out and active can help ensure your brain health and your overall health are protected.

Brain health booster 4: Eat a brain-healthy diet

Many foods play a positive impact on our brain health. In particular, the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and healthy fats, can help keep your heart and brain healthy.

Not ready to make wholesale changes to your diet? That’s OK, just add a few brain boosters to your normal routine:

Popeye knew what he was doing! Green, leafy veggies like spinach contain large amounts of cognition-boosting vitamins C and E.

Along with those brain boosters, green veggies also contain folic acid and B-vitamins. You can also choose lettuce, greens and broccoli to reap the benefits.

It doesn’t particularly matter what kind you choose — berries are high in antioxidants, which have a stress-reducing effect on brain cells.

When you’re selecting berries or cherries (which have similar effects), look for bright colors. The brighter the berry, the more nutrients it contains.

One thing to consider: Blueberries may have a particularly positive effect on brain health. Some studies have found that blueberries may help reduce the effects of dementia.

Fatty fish
Fish containing omega-3 fatty acids are a key part of the Mediterranean diet, which we mentioned above. You want to look for fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, lake trout, albacore tuna and sardines, which help boost brain health.

Omega-3 fatty acids positively affect the brain in several ways. They stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain associated with mood and they also boost learning and memory.

Experts recommend getting at least two servings of fatty fish each week. You’ll want to avoid varieties that are high in mercury to protect your overall health.

Dark chocolate
Nope, we aren’t kidding! Choose chocolate with as a high a percentage of cocoa as palatable.

Dark chocolate is filled with brain-enhancing components, including antioxidants and natural stimulants known to increase concentration.

Plus, this treat has also been found to stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain, helping improve mood. Choose a chocolate bar that contains walnuts for an added boost that’s associated with improved learning and memory!

Erlanger’s neurology specialists treat patients with a variety of neurological disorders related to aging, ranging from common to complex. Find an Erlanger neurologist here.