Often times, we place more emphasis on our physical health, digestive health…and just about every other type of wellness (which are definitely important) but we tend to forget about cognitive health.
We are here to serve as a gentle reminder that your cognitive health matters too. Everyone’s brain changes with age, and your mental function along with it. Mental decline is common, and it’s usually one of the most worrisome consequences of aging. We are going to share some simple tips that you can use to maintain your cognitive health. But before we get into that, let’s shed a little light on how the brain ages.
The Aging Brain
It’s easy to spot how our bodies change with age, our hair turns grey, we get wrinkles because our skin loses its elasticity, the list goes on. But an aging brain can be slightly more difficult to pick up on. Just like our muscles and joints, certain cells in our brains can stiffen up, which was shown in a recent study on mice, in the journal Nature1. But this is just one of the ways our brains change as we age. From declines in memory and mental abilities, to microscopic changes in brain cells and chemistry, our brains go through a number of transitions as we get older.
As you age, you will begin to notice subtle changes in your cognitive abilities. Memorizing new information will become more difficult, and remembering names and numbers will be tougher too. Your autobiographical memory of life events and the knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years (facts and information) decline with age, however, procedural memory (i.e. learning how to ride a bike), remains pretty much intact2. But fear not! Because though some things will decline, others may improve! A Seattle Longitudinal Study, which tracked the cognitive abilities of thousands of adults over 50, showed that people performed better on tests of verbal abilities, spatial reasoning, math and abstract reasoning than they did when they were young adults3.
Top 5 Ways to Improve Cognitive Health
Here are five ways you can help maintain healthy brain function:
Mental stimulation: Give your brain a workout! By the time you’re an adult, you’ve developed millions of neural pathways that help you to process and recall information quickly, solve problems, and execute habitual tasks with very little mental effort. But if you always stick to these “well-worn” paths, you aren’t giving your brain the stimulation it needs to keep developing4. Memory, like muscles, requires you to “use it or lose it.” Some easy things you can do to stimulate your brain are to read, take a course at your local community college, and try to incorporate some crosswords and word puzzles into your weekly routine. Drawing and painting can also be great too!
Get your sweat on: Now that you’ve given your brain a workout, don’t forget about your body! A daily form of exercise like walking, yoga, cycling (or whatever your favorite form of exercise is) can really help improve blood flow, including blood flow to the brain. It is also great at lowering your blood pressure, improving your cholesterol levels, helping to keep your blood sugar balanced, and reducing your mental stress too.
Heal your gut: Have you ever heard of something called the gut-brain axis? The gut and the brain are connected in your body via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Down in the gut, bacteria make neuroactive compounds, including about 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates our emotions5. The brain can also send signals to the gastrointestinal system to stimulate or suppress digestion. The gut also produces the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and stress. So, keeping your digestive system balanced and your microbiome healthy can indirectly help your brain, and make sure it’s in the best shape possible for producing these neurotransmitters, among other things. To keep your gut in tip-top shape, we recommend adding a quality probiotic supplement to your routine. Look for one that contains clinically-researched human strains of bacteria, like Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and bifidobacterium longum, which support your body’s GI function and immune health.
Ingredients to include in your daily supplements: There are certain ingredients you can look for in the supplements you take everyday, which can help to improve your brain’s health. One of these beneficial nutrients is ginkgo biloba. It is believed that ginkgo improves cognitive function because it promotes good blood circulation in the brain and can protect the brain from neural damage6. Another great ingredient to look for is ginseng. Ginseng has been found to help regulate neurotransmitter levels. It can also reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain7.
Manage Stress: Find a way to manage your stress. In addition to the mental anxiety that stress can bring on, it can create inflammation in the body, so it’s best to find an outlet for it, and sooner rather than later. Talk to a family member or friend, keep a journal, practice breathing exercises…whatever works best for you.
You only have one brain and it needs to last you a lifetime, so take care of the one you have!
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.