The older you get, the more and more important it becomes to take proper care of your brain. Think of your brain like a car. Without proper care, it can break down as it gets older. If you take care of the car, you can get productive use out of it for years. In this article, we will discuss why cognitive health is important, the pillars of brain health, and foods to eat and avoid to take care of your brain health.
Why is Cognitive Health Important?
Among the research community, it used to be a widespread belief that memory loss and cognitive decline was simply a part of the aging process. It was believed to be unavoidable and untreatable. However, thanks to modern research and studies, most experts believe this is not the case.
Cognitive health can decline due to unavoidable aging, but most cognitive decline can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle centered around brain health. This should be considered great news as it means you have more control of your cognitive health than you may have previously believed. It’s important to stay on top of your cognitive health because it’s what gets us through our day-to-day life. Avoiding cognitive health issues can not only improve your quality of life but your longevity as well. We will dive deeper into how you can improve cognitive health later in the article.
What Are the 6 Pillars of Brain Health?
A variety of medical conditions are strongly linked to the decline of brain function. That’s why it’s important to keep your blood pressure and weight at a healthy level, take medication as prescribed, cut down on salt and sugar, keep active, and stay socially connected and positive. All of this can help you stay sharp, smart, and increase the vitality and quality of life as you enter your golden years. Staying on top of your cognitive health is as easy as following the 6 pillars of brain health:
- Physical exercise
- Food and nutrition
- Medical health
- Sleep and relaxation
- Mental fitness
- Social interaction
Practicing these pillars won’t guarantee protection from brain disorders, but they greatly reduce the risk.
Foods That Are Bad for Memory
A poor diet can cause a major decline in cognitive functions. By simply altering your diet, you greatly reduce the risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. But what are the main foods you should avoid? Here are five foods that cause memory loss:
- Refined bread and pasta - These foods are stripped of the nutrients so there’s no fiber to slow down their digestion
- Red meat - Studies found the most important dietary link to Alzheimer’s Disease appears to be meat consumption, with eggs and high-fat dairy also contributing. Just like saturated fat clogs the cardiovascular system, the blood vessels in our brain become clogged as well
- Vegetable Oils - These oils are full of omega-6 which is an inflammatory fatty acid, which is linked with increased risk for Alzheimer’s
- Cheese - Pizza and cheese are the biggest sources of saturated fat in the American diet. This fat clogs our brain vessels the same way it clogs our heart vessels
- Refined Sugar - Too much sugar causes inflammation in the brain and like those refined carbs, it spikes your blood sugar which leaves your body and your brain without the energy they need
As we mentioned earlier, it’s not like you need to stop eating these foods for the rest of your life. However, cutting these foods out of your regular diet can help tremendously. It’s okay to splurge every once in a while but you should not be eating these foods regularly.
How to Improve Brain Function
You should think about your brain as if it’s a muscle. It will require constant exercise and care in order to function at 100%. Yes, exercise. Not in the way you’re thinking though. There are no weight lifting techniques that will help make your brain bigger and stronger in the literal sense. Social exercises and mental exercises, more specifically, is what can help. Here are some of the ways you can improve your brain function:
- Remain social - Keeping up with social activity can help ward off depression and stress, both can play a huge role in memory loss. Connecting with loved ones, friends, and others, especially if you live alone, can help you keep your brain socially involved
- A healthy sleep schedule - Sleep plays a massive role in both our physical wellbeing and our mental wellbeing. Some experts even believe that sleep can help clear abnormal proteins in your brain and consolidate memories, which boosts your memory and brain health. You should try to get seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep per night. Consecutive sleep gives your brain the time to consolidate and store your memories
- Regular exercise - Research has found that those who exercise frequently are far less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You should try to exercise several times per week for 30-60 minutes. Exercises don’t have to be rigorous weight training. Walking, swimming, jogging, playing tennis, stretching, and any other moderate aerobic activity that increases your heart rate works just fine
By taking proper care of your brain, you can protect yourself from diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
What is the Best Brain Food?
Of course, one of the best ways to take care of your brain is to eat a diet full of brain-healthy foods. These foods will not only take care of your brain’s wellbeing, but your entire body’s as a whole. Here are some foods that improve memory and concentration that also increase your longevity:
- Green veggies - These veggies are rich in nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene which can all slow cognitive decline
- Fatty fish - Fish have omega-3 acids and healthy unsaturated fats that have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, which can cause brain damage
- Tea and coffee - Research has shown that those with higher caffeine consumption score better on tests of mental function
- Walnuts - Nuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats and may improve memory
By pairing a healthy diet with plenty of physical and mental exercise, you can take proper care of your brain. Both your brain and your body will thank you.
How to Improve Memory Recall
There are many ways you can improve your memory both in the long term and in the short term. There are ways to improve memory retention right before an exam if you’re a student and ways to improve your long term memory if you’re a senior. Here are strategies recommended by experts to improve memory recall:
- Focus your attention - In order for information to move from your short-term memory into your long-term memory, you need to actively attend to this information
- Structure and organize - By structuring your information, you have a better chance of retaining it
- Mnemonic devices - It may seem elementary, but practicing mnemonic devices really does help improve memory retention
- Pay extra attention to things that are difficult to remember - Everyone’s brains work differently. What may be easy to remember to you is difficult for someone else and vice versa. Place an extra emphasis on the things that are difficult for you to remember
By practicing these techniques, you can improve your memory retention.
Supplements Can Help
Eating a diet diverse in nutrients and void of processed foods and sugars can greatly benefit your brain health. This however, is not always the easiest of tasks and you don’t always get the necessary nutrients and vitamins through diet alone. Supplements are a great way to get any vitamins/nutrients missed by your diet. One such supplement that has gained recent attention is spermidine, a naturally occurring polyamine which has been linked to brain health. Spermidine reduces inflammation factors, increases the formation of memory cells, and triggers the preventive removal of toxic protein aggregates in cells, which may be responsible for neurodegeneration, the cause of dementia and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This removal of toxic protein aggregates in cells is known as autophagy.