Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is like wearing a helmet throughout life: it's the first line of defense when protecting your brain.
While there is "no silver bullet for promoting brain power," setting good social, physical, and nutritional habits is the key to promoting cognitive wellness, says Dr. Jennie Valles, MD, a neurologist in Burke Rehabilitation Hospital's brain injury program.
Yes, "mentally engaging" activities like reading or playing video games that include motion capture or virtual reality can help stimulate the brain, but Dr. Valles credits big-picture lifestyle choices — like eating right and perpetuating a full social calendar — to long-term prosperity.
So, instead of flipping through the app store for brain games, try evaluating your behavioral patterns first. You can start by prioritizing Dr. Valles's tips for optimizing brain power.
Spend Time With Loved Ones
Call up your friends and establish a weekly game night or solidify your Taco Tuesday plans.
According to Dr. Valles, spending quality time with friends and family can do wonders for your brain cognition.
In fact, Healthybrains.org reports that individuals with more social interaction experience the slowest rate of memory decline, due to having a support system that helps to reduce stress, combat depression, and enhances intellectual stimulation.
Try Out the Mediterranean Diet
Here's to more lean proteins, low-starch vegetables, and fruits!
The Mediterranean diet is a great option for anyone looking to boost their cognitive health, Dr. Valles says. Eating this way is believed to reduce inflammation, protect against cell damage, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels, all of which promote a healthy brain, reports Brain&life.org.
If the Mediterranean route isn't your vibe, remember that a well-balanced and calorie-controlled diet, in general, can play a protective role in overall brain health, Dr. Valles admits.
She even pointed out that malnutrition, low BMI, and insulin resistance (like type two diabetes mellitus, for example) have all been linked to higher rates of dementia and brain function.
Talk to Your Doctor About Vitamins and Supplements
If you're maintaining a well-balanced diet, you're on the right track to managing your cognitive health — keep it up.
But, if your healthcare provider suggests taking supplements due to nutritional deficiencies, it would benefit your cognitive health greatly to listen, Dr. Valles explains.
Make sure you're abiding by a doctor's orders closely — taking too many supplements and vitamins could potentially result in toxicity if one is not careful.
Recharge With Meditation
While Dr. Valles admits that "the jury is still out" on whether or not meditation affects cognitive decline, she suggests the possibility of improved brain function due to the practice.
One study divulges into this idea further, stating that the influence of meditation on cognitive functions implies a positive effect, especially on attention, memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility.
Try defaulting to meditation when your brain is feeling burnt out — science may not 100 percent back this claim, but recharging with the practice won't do any harm, either.
Get Plenty of Sleep
We all know how hard it is to function after a poor night's sleep, but what are the long-term effects?
"Many studies have shown a relationship between sleep disturbances (like fragmented sleep and disordered breathing, for example) and cognitive decline and dementia," Dr. Valles explains.
Since sleep is so important for memory consolidation, she suggests seeking help from a sleep specialist for anyone who often feels unrested.
Sweat It Out
If you're not already working out two to three times a week for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, your long-term cognitive health is a great reason to start.
Dr. Valles stressed the imperative relationship between exercise and the proteins in the body that promote the preservation and the growth of brain cells.
Studies have also shown that exercising slows the shrinking of your hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and cognition. Sounds like a win-win to us.