Tips to Live By

4 Habits That Help Boost Brain Health

June 17, 2024

As the most complex organ in the body, your brain enables your thoughts, memories, movements, emotions, intelligence and behaviors. Just like other important organs — your heart and muscles, for instance — it's important to take steps to keep your brain functioning healthy and strong.

Why is brain health important?

Your brain acts as the command center for all aspects of your daily life, so keeping it healthy is critical to your overall well-being and quality of life, especially as you age. In fact, boosting your brain health can reduce your risk of developing memory loss-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

"There are two key aspects to brain health — your mental and behavioral brain health, and neurocognitive brain health," explains Dr. Amna Ramzan, a neurologist at Houston Methodist. "One impacts how we feel, think and act. The other impacts our ability to complete normal daily activities, such as eating, bathing and functioning within a community."

We rely on both aspects every single day. So what can you do to support healthy brain function?

Habits that help support a healthy brain

Supporting good brain health can be challenging since it requires adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors. Knowing the steps you should take and why they're important can help fuel your commitment to staying disciplined in your efforts.

Dr. Ramzan provides four ways you can take control of your cognitive function and mental well-being, as well as reduce your risk of neurological issues down the line. (Related: 6 Signs to See a Neurologist)

Eat less processed foods and more whole foods

An important pillar of maintaining strong brain function is what you put into your body. Some foods promote good brain health, while others hinder it.

For instance, foods full of added sugars, refined carbohydrates and saturated and trans fats tend to produce byproducts that can negatively affect the brain and blood vessels. (Related: How Processed Foods Harm Your Health & Examples of What Counts)

Whole foods, on the other hand, power the brain rather than work against it.

The best foods for brain health include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
  • Lean meats

"Studies have shown that people who have adopted the Mediterranean diet are less likely to get Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Ramzan says. "Consider eating more plant-based foods, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocado."

Move more, sit less

Research suggests that physically active people are less likely to experience a decline in their brain function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Adults should aim to get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise several times per week, choosing activities that increase your heart rate. It's also important to be physically active between your workouts. Exercising for 30 minutes, only to then sit at your desk, in your car and on your couch for the rest of the day isn't enough.

"Mental exercise is just as important as physical," Dr. Ramzan adds. "Play games, read, learn a new skill, meditate — all of these activities will improve your memory, attention, brain speed, people skills, intelligence and navigation."

Get quality sleep

Getting rest is a critical part of good brain health. Sleep keeps you sharp, focused and able to make thoughtful decisions. (Related: Why Am I So Tired?)

Experts also believe that sleep boosts your overall memory. For most adults, healthy sleep consists of six to eight hours per night.

Choose healthy surroundings

Your environment plays a significant role in good brain health. It encompasses the people, places and things you surround yourself with that can either enhance or diminish your health.

Be mindful of your surroundings and how they impact your mental health. Staying socially engaged is shown to reduce stress and depression, which are symptoms that can contribute to memory loss.

"Implementing these pillars of healthy habits is good for developing your brain, and also can bring down your risk for many other health conditions," says Dr. Ramzan.

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Categories: Tips to Live By