Is anyone not afraid of developing a memory-erasing illness in later life? It’s a real risk. And it’s not even like there’s only one kind to worry about – there are several. Scary? Sure. Imminent? Definitely not.
Even if we’re not talking about something as messed up as literally losing your mind, there’s still the cognitive slowdown that naturally follows leaning into old age. Can you protect against it? You can definitely try!
Your lifestyle has a lot to do with all aspects of your health – brain and body. It follows, then, that the same way staying active helps you stay mobile, staying mentally active helps you retain neural plasticity. And you don’t need mysterious pharmaceuticals to do it. Consider these 10 lifestyle habits that help protect your cognitive health:
1. Prioritize sleep.
It’s all about getting those zzz’s in – 7-9 hours a night every night forever. Well, as much as you can. It helps if you make your bedtime routine and sleep schedule consistent, too. Sleep deprivation is super-damaging to your mind and body, which is why it’s a torture mechanism in war.
Short-term effects of poor sleep include brain fog, impaired ability to regulate emotions, and impairments in memory, reaction time, attention, focus, and completing complex tasks. Long-term effects of poor sleep result in negative impacts on mental health, advanced rate of cognitive decline, and increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases that cause dimensia.
2. Exercise regularly.
Since a consistent exercise routine benefits exactly 100% of your body’s systems and parts, it follows that the brain counts! Exercise is a neuroprotective activity. It increases O2 flow to the brain, improves blood flow – which helps remove toxins and keeps brain cells healthy.
Breaking a sweat also increases BDNF, a protein vital to brain cell proliferation, function and longevity. Exercise also curbs inflammation and stress, boosts mood and promotes quality sleep – all factors that directly affect short and long-term brain health.
3. Eat a nutrient-rich (but not calorie-rich) diet.
You don’t need to get on any crazy fad diets – those can do as much damage to your brain as high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat diets. Undereating starves your brain cells of the things they need to function correctly. Overeating leads to higher BMI; and high BMI in middle age is linked to increased risk of early cognitive decline.
A major reason for these negative effects is that unhealthy diets lead to high blood sugar, which is linked to increased risk of dementia. However, good fats can protect brain health – like the Omegas. Unprocessed foods are better for your whole body – fish, leafy greens and whole grains especially so.
4. Stay socially engaged.
Making an effort to be social regularly has many benefits, especially to mental and cognitive health. Besides the mood-boosting, stress-reducing effects of laughing with friends, meeting and conversing with friends old or new engages several important brain functions, such as ignoring distractions, focusing, remembering, learning, short-term recall, idea generation, and additional executive functions.
Not only is social isolation associated with chronic low mood and shorter lifespan, it may actually shrink your brain. Not to mention that lack of stimulation weakens and stiffens neurochemical signaling. No wonder social isolation increases risk of advanced cognitive decline. Call your friends; get out of the house; join a club; volunteer – just make sure you’re getting face time with other people on the reg.
5. Challenge your brain.
Learning new things, solving complex problems, doing puzzles, brain teasers – even gardening, cooking and crafts – does several positive things to your head: you feel good about yourself, you exercise your brain, you create new neural pathways for learning and memory, and you keep the neural plasticity associated with proper cognitive function.
If you don’t use the muscle (your brain) it’ll atrophy, just like your legs would if you stopped moving for years. This increases cognitive decline, increasing risks of dementias and AD. A super-effective thing to try is learning a new language, which is especially hard for adults, and will be especially satisfying to accomplish. Download Duo Lingo. Just don’t choose Icelandic – it will break your spirit.
6. Take care of your mental health.
Chronic untreated depression is linked to higher risk of dementias, and untreated anxiety can contribute to cognitive decline. People with more severe psychiatric conditions should be even more vigilant about their brain health, because in mental illnesses that include psychoses, cognitive decline begins at the onset.
Practicing mindfulness, meditation, listening to music, seeing a mental health professional – all these things can help you ensure that you’re in control of whatever difficulties you may have. And your mental health professional will likely have some pro tips for you, too!
7. Take care of your heart.
The effects of poor heart health on brain health are multifaceted. For one, your heart is responsible for getting blood and O2 to the brain. If you have clogged arteries or a weakened heart, your brain cells aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and can be damaged. High cholesterol and high blood pressure cause inflammation in the body and brain, which damages brain cells and cognitive function.
And then there’s the risk of stroke, which can result in complete death of cells in major parts of your brain. A healthy diet and active lifestyle will help you reduce your risks of these complications by keeping your heart strong and your vascular system clear.
8. Chill out on the cocktails.
First of all – you don’t have to quit drinking. In fact, there’s some evidence that light to moderate drinking may actually be beneficial to cognitive health. We’ve been doing it for 6000+ years – it can’t be all bad.
However, excessive drinking and binge drinking are linked to cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia. This is because heavy doses of alcohol can kill brain cells and interrupt communication pathways. In addition, heavy drinking can hurt sleep quality and mood regulation, which are both important factors in brain health.
9. Listen to music more.
This is a work-smart-not-hard situation. Don’t feel like doing Sudoku today? Scour Spotify and find something new to listen to. When you listen to music, especially music you’ve never heard before, your brain is doing several things that add up to you hearing a cohesive sound. Many things are happening at once – each separate instrument, their separate notes and rhythms, lyrics, the features and quality of a voice, etc.
Your brain has to make sense of all these things separately to understand how they come together. And that’s why – so long as it’s not jazz – we can make sense of a song in totality when we listen to it. It’s a calming, mood-boosting activity that’s also a brain teaser!
10. Add a nootropic supplement to your daily routine.
No; not pills or weird chemicals. Not even caffeine or sugar! A daily greens powder with a strategic nootropic stack will support all your healthy efforts. Nootropics like saffron, eleuthero, GABA, and l-theanine are all clinically-backed to truly support – and in some cases even improve – cognitive health as well as emotional regulation and sleep health. You’re doing the brunt of the work – why not let a focus-boosting wellness drink help?
MTE has got your back when it comes to brain health – and that includes energy, mood, focus, stress, and recovery. The nootropics in MTE were carefully researched and combined for their abilities to regulate the HPA axis and boost cognitive abilities. Use it for 30 days and we bet you’ll forget all about the foggy, groggy days of the past. Check it – MTE: The Feel-Good Drink.