7 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Brain
by A. Scott White, CFP®, ChFC, CLU
President, Scott White Advisors
Maintaining a healthy brain is always a beneficial practice, but particularly when considering one’s long-term health. There are many steps a person can take now to ensure better brain health in the future, decreasing risk of dementia and Alzheimers as well as creating a generally more fruitful retirement experience. Some of the most key factors include precisely what you might expect: improved sleep, diet, exercise, and avoiding head trauma, but other factors may be less obvious, including maintaining heart health, staying socially engaged, and avoiding or moderating substance usage.
- Improve Sleep
The act of sleeping is restorative for a multitude of bodily functions – and the brain is no exception. According to Scripps Health, some current theories suggest that sleeping may help clear abnormal proteins called amyloids from the brain, clearing up cognitive function as well as consolidating memories to improve overall memory.
Maintaining good sleep hygiene is an important piece of improving sleep, including removing devices and other distractions from your sleeping space as well as limiting exercise, big meals, and excessive water intake close to bedtime. Sleepytime tea and organic melatonin are cited as examples of healthy sleep aids.
- Keep Up a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Regularly sticking to a diet of brain-healthy foods can be key to long-term brain health. This can be achieved by increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and quality proteins in one’s diet while limiting the intake of processed foods. The Mayo Clinic recommends the Mediterranean diet. Balance in diet is incredibly important because, as the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” Foods fuel one’s body and brain, and therefore drive how they function – so an improved diet leads inevitably to improved health.
- Ensure Sufficient Exercise
Another lifelong habit that can aid in maintaining brain health is, of course, exercise. Participating in activities to increase one’s heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes a few times a week can make a big difference – whether that is biking, walking, playing tennis, or any other number of other moderate aerobic activities.
Regular exercise increases blood flow and oxygen flow to the brain, improving cognitive function in the long term and according to the Mayo Clinic, can help counter the natural reduction in brain connections that can occur in the aging process.
- Avoid Head Injuries
Perhaps an obvious connection, various studies have shown that the more head injuries a person sustains in their life, the more their risk for dementia increases. Therefore it remains important to protect one’s head from hard impact in order to maintain brain health.
- Maintain Heart Health
Just as maintaining physical health through exercise also helps brain health, so too does keeping one’s heart healthy. Since the brain is connected to all parts of the body, it is necessary to take care of the entirety of one’s self. Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in a healthy range ensures healthy arteries and blood flow, thereby also keeping the brain healthy. Luckily, this can be achieved through some of the other healthy brain habits, including regular exercise and a balanced diet.
- Stay Socially (and Mentally) Active
Another major boon to brain health is maintaining social and mental acuity. Engaging with others in social settings and challenging oneself with games, puzzles, and other mentally focused activities can help maintain neuroplasticity – the flexibility and smooth function of the brain – and improve brain health. Social interaction also has been found to decrease rates of stress, depression and other mental illness according to the Mayo Clinic, which in turn has been found to decrease risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.
- Moderate Alcohol Usage and Quit Smoking
Just like avoiding brain injuries, moderating alcohol intake and quitting smoking helps maintain overall physical and mental health, in turn improving the health of the brain.
A decline in brain health, particularly during the aging process, can be a scary possibility to consider, but it does not have to be. There are a variety of habits and actions a person can take to maintain a healthy brain. And it can be at least partially under the control of the individual to decrease their own risk of dementia and Alzheimers later in life. By keeping with the suggestions outlined above, there is no reason a person cannot keep their brain healthy well into retirement.