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It was once thought that brain decline happened due to brain cell (neuron) death or cease of function. Recent research now shows that the neurotransmitter dopamine can trigger the formation of new neurons in adult brains. Not only do neurons regenerate, they are also able to reorganize themselves and form new neural connections (called neuroplasticity). With our current knowledge, not only can we slow down cognitive decline, but we can prevent it outright. Try the following dietary and lifestyle tweaks to boost your brainpower, prolong your mental health and ultimately, make yourself smarter.
The brain is only 2% of our body mass but it consumes 20% of our oxygen and nutrients.Aerobic exercise improves blood flow and increases oxygen levels, which increase neuron growth. Exercise also increases the volume of white and grey matter in the brain. A minimum of 30 minutes three times a week is recommended.
2. Eat dark chocolate and other brain foods.
The brain is comprised of 70% fat. Healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil, fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) and/or supplement with a high quality fish oil. Foods like cocoa, blueberries, red wine and grapes contain compounds that have been shown to be beneficial for brain health. The polyphenols in green tea have been shown to improve memory. Egg yolks are a rich source of choline which is needed to make one of your brain’s main neurotransmitters. Eating for best brain health also includes eating balanced meals (meals that include roughly equal amounts of protein, carbohydrate and fats – this is especially important at breakfast). Avoid food additives like aspartame and food dyes, which have been shown to damage neurons. Eliminate, or ideally, avoid consuming sugar due to its affect on blood sugars which is a known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s (some researchers now call it Type III Diabetes).
Sleep is needed not only to regenerate cells, but also helps strength synaptic connections. How many of us wake from a good night’s sleep with a new solution to an old problem? That is because sleep allows your brain to analyze problems from a different perspective. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep for adults and 8.5 – 9.25 hours for teens.
3. Try something new.
Challenge your mind by continuing to learn. Activities that use both sides of your brain – like learning a new language, painting, dancing or playing an instrument are all particularly beneficial for brain growth. Listening to music and reading fiction are also proven ways to enhance cognitive function. Travel and engaging in social activity have also proved beneficial. Doing puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku are also useful in keeping your neurons active. Using the internet has also been shown to activate regions of the decision-making and complex reasoning parts of your brain, making it a much better choice than passively watching TV.
According to the Society for Neuroscience, there are many benefits to calorie restriction/intermittent fasting, such as increased synaptic plasticity, neuron growth, decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and improved cognitive function. Some popular methods of intermittent fasting include fasting for 24 hours (only drink water) once per week, the 16:2 model in which eating is restricted to an 8 window every day (thereby “fasting” for 16 hours/day), or restricting your calories to 500 (for a woman) – 600 (for a man) calories per day 1-2x/week with five days of regular dietary intake.
With knowledge comes power, so I hope these tips inspire you to make changes that will improve not only your mental health, but ultimately your overall health, for years to come. Hopefully, this article has already left you just a little bit smarter.