This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase through a link.
A healthy brain equals a healthy mind. They’re not two separate entities – but one system working together. Our mind has a direct effect on our thoughts and the way we feel regarding, well, everything!
Our thoughts influence our behaviors, our energy levels, our concentration, our mood, and how we perform. So, why don’t we take better care of our noggins? Well, up until recently there hasn’t been much research on the topic.
According to Brooks Kenny, executive director of Women Against Alzheimer’s, who shares in Prevention Magazine, “In the past five to 10 years, the pace of brain research has sped up in all areas, from understanding cognitive decline to identifying steps we can take to reduce our risk of dementia to developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s.”
I’m particularly interested in brain health given my battle with chronic migraine. I’m always looking for ways to optimize my ‘migraine brain’, decrease symptoms and mitigate pain.
If you really want to improve your brain and mental health the key comes down to habits – things you do on a regular basis to optimize your brain! In this article, I’m going to take a look at seven ways we can adjust our lifestyle to keep our brains healthy and happy.
- What makes a brain healthy?
- 7 Habits To Improve Brain Care Health
- 1. Exercise: Moving Daily
- 2. Up Your Nutrition Game: Nourishing the Body
- 3. Time Out: Finding Time to Pause
- 4. Catch some Zzz’s: Feel Rested
- 5. Stay Hydrated: Yay for H2O!
- 5. Hit the Books:
- 7. Say Goodbye to the Gaunga: Bye, bye Marijuana
- What affects brain health the most?
- Pay attention to your body
- How do I check my brain health?
- The Wrap-Up
What makes a brain healthy?
First, what makes a brain healthy? Depending on your brain type, it looks different for each of us. Dr. Amen, of Amen Clinics, recognizes 16 brain types and also provides an online quiz to help jumpstart your way to a better brain. (I’m brain type #12)
However, the most accurate way to evaluate our brain is through a single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan. This image uniquely measures radio-active substances with the use of a special 3D camera allowing physicians to see how well our brain (or other organs) are functioning and what’s at risk.
Healthy Brain Image
Unhealthy Brain Image
7 Habits To Improve Brain Care Health
While it’s best to approach brain health for each person individually, there are habits we can all do to make a healthier brain for ourselves.
1. Exercise: Moving Daily
Our body and brain thrive with constant and consistent movement each day. And if you are time crunched already, you’ll be happy to know it doesn’t matter how long you walk, run or just do jumping jacks at your desk between zoom calls.
As a matter of fact, new research proves short bursts of physical activity can be just as effective as one concentrated session.
Beyond physical benefits, exercising has huge effects on our brain. Our bodies release ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters (endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine) that fight depression and help with our mental health. Working out regularly also affects the brain structure, making it more elastic and softer.
In addition, exercise has been connected to improved mood, decreased cortisol concentrations and reduced stress hormones. Overall, it’s a great place to start.
2. Up Your Nutrition Game: Nourishing the Body
As someone who lived off protein bars and coffee for several years, let me be the first to reiterate the importance of diet on brain health. It’s a big deal!
Research shows foods that help optimize brain function include: leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, berries, fish, dark chocolate, and other foods & spices rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Both brain-boosting substances help decrease inflammation and enhance brain function and development.
Omega 3 fatty acids (made of DHA & EPA fatty acids) are some of the most recognized ingredients studied. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical in the function and development of our brains because our bodies do not manufacture it. For example, in mice studies when the amount of DHA decreases, they tend to experience deficits in learning and memory. Additionally, older adults with less DHA in their blood have higher rates of aging and smaller physical brains!
Pass the salmon! If fish isn’t your thing, fish oil supplements at 1,000-2,ooo mg daily is the way to go. You want to look for something with both EPA & DHA, that is freshly caught, and is certified by a third party.
Arazo Nutrition Omega 3 Fish Oil
Dr. Amen brainMD Omega-3
3. Time Out: Finding Time to Pause
I don’t have to remind you that our fast-paced world largely contributes to chronic stress. Each day is filled with an ever-growing to do list with more tasks to complete than hours in the day. Not to mention the pressures we put on ourselves to succeed, move ahead and keep up the facade that ‘we have it altogether’.
The Harvard Gazette reports that 80% of Americans experience stress daily … and have a hard time calming their body and mind.
All of this pressure constantly wears on us, and while we can’t completely avoid all stress in our lives, we can take steps to lessen the cognitive load.
Practicing mindful breathing and meditation are powerful skills for managing our stress response and helps our mind and body feel at ease.
An article in American Psychological Association tells us psychological scientists found that mindfulness influences two different stress pathways in the brain. By doing so, this changes our brain structures and activity in regions associated with attention and emotion regulation.
Slow down and take a time out for your mind and better your brain health in the process.
4. Catch some Zzz’s: Feel Rested
I know, I know – you don’t need another person telling you to turn off Netflix and hit the sack earlier to sleep. But the truth is, most of us need (a lot) more rest than we’re getting.
A 2021 Forbes article highlighted studies showing that “sleep deprivation leads to brain stress, cloudy thinking, and decision fatigue, plus fragmented sleep signals a vulnerability to social stress. “
Additionally, not hitting the pillow early enough makes it even harder for us to stay positive when faced with tough or difficult circumstances. (Ever feel crabby after a bad nights sleep?)
You might be surprised to learn that your brain actually stays very active while you’re snoozing away. The brain is hard at work removing toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
Brain scientist and author, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor shares, ‘the cells in your brain are constantly working. They eat and they create waste, so sleep is the optimal time for the waste to be cleared out between the cells so they can actually function….”
Still not convinced? A long range study in Science Daily findings suggest “that women and men who begin sleeping more or less than 6 to 8 hours per night are subject to an accelerated cognitive decline that is equivalent to four to seven years of aging” Yikes.
5. Stay Hydrated: Yay for H2O!
We’ve all had that fuzzy, cloudy feeling when we’ve gone too long with out food or drink. It’s our brain telling us it needs some loving, especially H20! Our bodies are 70% water and almost every bodily function is dependent on it.
Several research studies show cognitive function decreases by approximately 5% with as little as 1% dehydration.
Keeping up with your water intake increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain which helps concentration, cognition, and memories — not to mention, improves mood & emotions. Oh, and drinking up keeps pesky headaches at bay — a big one for me!
I would always get some of my worst migraines after a long training or race day when I didn’t hydrate properly and my body got into a deep state of dehydration. Not only did this take hours (and sometimes days!) to correct and re-balance electrolytes, but my brain ‘just didn’t work’ well affecting all areas of my life.
If only I knew that my prolonged dehydration was causing my brain to age prematurely! Eek. Our grey matter shrinks (in size and mass) when we’re not drinking enough water on a regular basis. Do you need another reason to chug?
So, how much water do we need?
This is the age-old question – right? The Mayo Clinic quoted in The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends daily fluid intake as:
- 3.7 liters of fluids a day for men
- 2.7 liters of fluids a day for women
Note: this doesn’t take into account, exercise, environment, or other health conditions that may increase the need for water intake. However, 2-3 liters (or half your body weight in ounces) is a good general recommendation to strive towards.
Btw, my fav new water bottle for tracking my water intake is Hydro Flask. Not only does it have a lifetime warranty, it’s eco-friendly with stainless steel (no plastic!) and 100% recyclable.
Upping our water intake will contribute to our brain function and support our body as a whole!
5. Hit the Books:
If you’re only reading your social media feeds or scores of the latest football game, listen up! By making reading a habit, connections in your brain strengthen — this improves your memory, concentration and mood.
Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, was quoted in Insider saying, “Reading material that requires thought, consideration, and effort to metabolize what’s being described leads to the creation of new neurons in your brain,” Romanoff says. “These neurons also increase new neuronal connections, both with each other and older networks, which accelerates processing speed.”
Not to mention, studies show that frequent reading protects against cognitive decline as we age and may even help you live longer!? Studies report 20% mortality decrease vs. non-readers!
The hubs and I started upping our reading this summer with the goal of reading 10-pages of non-fiction a day. I started sleeping better when reading before bed (instead of watching reruns of Gilmore Girls and Friends to drift off…), I began writing more, and Paul and I have much more to talk about! Win-Win 🙂
7. Say Goodbye to the Gaunga: Bye, bye Marijuana
We were taught in the 90’s, “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs’ with an egg cracking open into a hot skillet. Now, with the legalization of marijuana in many states I have to wonder, do we still raise the same level of caution?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), as of February 3, 2022, 37 states, three territories and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products.
While listening to the podcast I mentioned earlier with Dr. Amen on Jay Shetty’s ON Purpose Show, I was shocked to learn the uptick in marijuana (after legalization in many states) had trickled down to babies, with to a 1700% increase in babies being born with weed in their systems.
While adults have found many beneficial uses – from lowering blood pressure to fighting cancer — cannabis has significant detrimental effects on babies and kids.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) shares, “Using marijuana before age 18 may affect how the brain builds connections for functions like attention, memory, and learning. Marijuana’s effects on attention, memory, and learning may last a long time or even be permanent”.
Worried because you tried marijuana while you were younger? Don’t stress just yet — there are many factors that go into how it impacts our brains. For example, the strength , how often and how early it was used, and whether you used other substances (alcohol/ tobacco) during the same time.
What affects brain health the most?
Heads up! Brain injury is the number one cause of cause cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Be smart and wear seat belts and helmets when you do contact sports, ride motor bikes, cycle, or hit the slopes. Also, note that helmets have a ‘shelf life’ and should be replaced approximately every five years. Take a look at yours today!
Pay attention to your body
On average, the brain is said to have about 100 billion neurons which are firing and passing signals to each other as many as 1,000 trillion times. Crazy to think about, right?
To improve our brain health we can start by doing a self-check. Our brain is good at sending messages when it doesn’t have good health. Are you feeling extra fatigued, cloudy, and/or anxious? Take note!
How do I check my brain health?
Still curious about your brain health and looking for ways to further evaluate? With brain SPECT imaging technology doctors can measure blood flow, neural activity, and the shape of your brain to diagnose and recommend treatment.
Practicing good brain care is a conscious choice to improve your life. Everything that happens to your brain positively – or negatively – can make an impact. The good news? If your brain health is on the fritz, you can improve it! When we adopt the 7 Brain Care Habits every day we can improve our quality of life and the lives of those around us.
Healthy Brains = Happy Life.
Reminder: I am not a doctor or health professional — I am simply sharing my learnings and experiences! To learn more about brain care or research doctors, check out Dr. Amen’s Clinic page.