Cognitive health, also referred to as brain health is dependent upon a great many factors, several of which include genetics, the environment, diet, and physical lifestyle. Some of those factors are uncontrollable. Here is a look at how two of the factors within your control – diet and physical lifestyle – may be approached with the aim of improving brain function and memory.
Note: The following content is for informational purposes and should not be mistaken for medical advice. Please consult a physician, medical professional or specialist for all health matters. Resources used are linked within the post.
What is cognition?
Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Cognitive abilities include skills such as vocabulary, conceptual reasoning, and memory. Some cognitive abilities naturally decline with age, while others are pretty resilient unless affected by a disease or disorder that directly effects the brain. Many studies have been done on cognitive aging. Several of those studies have found that there are some actions that can be done to help mitigate some of the age-associated decline of cognitive health.
Diet & Fitness Tips for Brain Health
When it comes to diets, there are various options for helping to achieve better brain health. In choosing one, it is smart to speak to a health professional to see what would work best for you.
Three popular diets touted for their effects on cognitive improvement:
- A great diet for the brain is a Mediterranean Diet which, in general, includes fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil, according to WebMD. The Mediterranean Diet is beneficial for heart and brain health , red meat should be limited and herbs should flavor food rather than salt, per the Alzheimer’s Association.
- Another diet that may be beneficial for the brain is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet, typically referred to as the DASH Diet. It focuses on vegetables, fruits and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. It also includes whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. It encourages a limit on sodium, sweets and red meat.
- The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet, known widely as the MIND Diet, combines both Mediterranean and DASH parameters for eating, and is a diet that aims to promote a healthy mind. It was developed by a nutritional epidemiologist and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and was introduced in 2015 in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, according to the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To learn about its specifics, Live Science features a fantastic breakdown of it.
Specific food recommendations with the brain in mind:
Veggies. For the brain, vegetables that may be helpful for memory include cruciferous ones like broccoli, cabbage and dark, leafy greens, according to eatright.com. Consuming an adequate amount of vegetables is also helpful.
Berries. Consuming blueberries and strawberries is helpful for memory function and slowing cognitive decline.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Also recommended by earight.com are omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Foods that provide omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, Bluefin tuna, sardines and herring.
Fish. Think of fish as brain food. Independent of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids non-fried fish has been found to be positively associated with gray matter volumes in areas of the brain that control memory and, you guessed it… cognition!
Taking on regular physical exercise may be beneficial in helping to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Exercise may increase blood and oxygen flow in the brain, directly benefiting brain cells. Also, per the Alzheimer’s Association, “Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.”
WebMD recommends people take a 30-minute walk daily, as exercise can help to prevent things that can lead to memory loss, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and stroke.
Did you know? As people get into better shape, their brains grow.
Neuroscientist and science writer at The Guardian, Ben Martynoga, suggested various forms of aerobic exercise that can help with slowing cognitive decline. Our hippocampus—the area of the brain associated with learning and memory— shrinks in late adulthood. However, regular physical activity training can increase the size of the hippocampus. Besides the benefits to the hippocampus, exercise in different forms can improve concentration, decrease cognitive decline, enhance creativity, and mitigate mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He suggested walking regularly, exercising to improve balance and coordination, weightlifting and dancing.
Help others boost their cognitive abilities by sharing these tips with friends and family! Share the infographic below on your favorite social media site.
- Berries Boost Brain Function— Webmd.com
- Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss — American Journal of Preventative Medicine
- Brain Food: 6 Snacks that Are Good for the Mind—The Telegraph
- A Healthy Dietary Pattern at Midlife is Associated with Subsequent Cognitive Performance— The Journal of Nutrition
- How Physical Exercise Makes Your Brain Work Better —The Guardian
- Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America