The human brain is such an incredibly complex organ that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly how to keep it healthy. For example: did you know that practicing good oral hygiene can slash your risk of dementia? That’s right—brushing and flossing is one way to help keep your brain healthy.
It probably goes without saying that you want to do everything you can to keep your brain in tip-top shape. After all, it’s in charge of no less than “thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and every process that regulates our body,” as described by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Read on for eight easy ways to help keep this amazing organ healthy.
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Burning the all-night fuel is not doing your brain any favors. “Not sleeping enough can increase your risk of dementia,” warns Puja Aggarwal, MD, a board-certified neurologist and neuroscientist. “You can change this by coming up with a set sleeping schedule (at least six to seven hours) and sticking to it.”
Certain sleep habits are linked to an increased risk of dementia. “[R]esearchers found that people over age 65 who consistently sleep more than nine hours every night had twice the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease within the next 10 years when compared to those who slept less than nine hours a night,” reports Boston University’s The Brink.
“Being physically fit decreases your risk of memory loss,” advises Aggarwal, who suggests incorporating walking, daily chores, and other activities into your daily life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that physical activity can help improve memory, reduce anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of dementia. “But you don’t have to be a fitness guru to reap the benefits,” says the CDC. “Any amount of physical activity can help.”
There are plenty of reasons to drink enough water each day, including regulating your body’s temperature, preventing infections, keeping your organs functioning, and elevating your mood. It can also reduce your risk of heart failure. And since approximately 75 percent of the brain is made up of water, “dehydration, even in small amounts, can have a negative effect on the brain functions,” reports Harvard Health.
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“By surrounding yourself with family and friends, you build emotional connections which lead to longevity,” says Aggarwal. “This also helps reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Research has shown that “the most social seniors had a 70 percent reduction in the rate of cognitive decline, compared with their least social peers,” Time reported.
Socializing shouldn’t be one-sided, either—you’ll need someone who will listen to you. Joel Salinas, MD, the lead author of a 2021 study on cognitive health, told CNN that having a good listener may be helpful in strengthening parts of the brain as well as minimizing damage caused by aging.
“Anxiety and depression have been linked to a higher risk of memory loss,” explains Aggarwal. “With positivity, you reduce your rates of anxiety and depression and increase your happiness.”
John Medina, PhD, author of Brain Rules for Aging Well, told Forbes that optimism both reduces stress and helps with the production of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter. “Dopamine packs a serious wallop,” said Medina, comparing its effect to starting a car. “Insert the key into the lock, and the car springs to life.”
You’ll want to reduce your stress levels not just for your brain health, but for your body’s overall wellness, too.
A diet that supports brain health has two facets, Aggarwal explains. “Incorporating vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes into your diet and [eating less] red meat improves your brain health and longevity,” she says. The many benefits of maintianing a healthy diet include boosting heart health, helping to prevent illness, and maintaining a healthy weight.
It’s also important to keep up with news about which foods can specifically benefit your brain health. A recent study showed that drinking tart cherry juice may help reduce your risk of dementia. Other foods that may be good for your brain include coffee and tea, walnuts, and fatty fish, according to Harvard Health.
“Your brain is similar to a muscle—you need to use it or you lose it,” Don Dexter, MD, wrote for the Mayo Clinic, saying that making time for mentally-stimulating activities is like “cross-training your brain.” “There are many things that you can do to keep your brain in shape, such as doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, reading, playing cards, or putting together a jigsaw puzzle.”
Dexter cautions against “brain-training programs,” saying “Your brain can get just as good of a workout through reading or challenging yourself with puzzles.” In addition, he advises against excessively watching television. “[T]hat is a passive activity and does little to stimulate your brain.”