You probably know from experience that your brain doesn’t work well if you skimp on sleep or binge on nothing
but junk food for the entire weekend. But there’s plenty of solid research to back up the idea that the brain performs best with support from the six pillars of brain health.
These pillars — which include Exercise, Nutrition, Medical Health, Sleep, Social Interaction, and Mental Fitness—were identified by the Cleveland Clinic and adopted by health researchers worldwide.
By proactively incorporating these components into your lifestyle, you’ll not only be getting the most out of your brain function today but also positioning your brain to remain healthy and strong for the long term. Here are some highlights from the six pillars:
I. PHYSICAL EXERCISE
Exercise releases important chemicals, including neurotransmitters that improve attention, perception, focus, and mood, as well as BDNF— the protein that acts as a fertilizer for your brain! Research shows that even light to moderate aerobic exercise im- proves oxygen consumption, which helps the brain function better. In the elderly, aerobic exercise—such as walking, bicycling, or yoga—has actually been found to reduce brain cell loss.
II. FOOD AND NUTRITION
Did you know that 80% of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut? So, if you want your brain to function well, you have to feed it well. The top two brain killers in our diet are sugar and grains. Sugar, grains, and pro- cessed foods cause inflammation in the body AND the brain. They are neuro-inflammatory. In fact, Alzheimer’s is being called Type 3 Diabetes due to the correlation of blood sugar and insulin regulation to the brain. The average person eats 22 teaspoons of sugar daily & 152 pounds of sugar per year. As a general rule, aim to avoid sugar and grains 90% of the time and enjoy them the other 10% of the time. Your best bet is to focus on brain-boosting foods, such as salmon, walnuts, sardines, and blueberries, among others.
III. MEDICAL HEALTH
Taking care of your heart helps your brain. You can reduce your dementia risks by managing your blood pressure and avoiding diabetes and obesity. If your doctor prescribes medication for a medical condition, take it regularly and in the dosage prescribed.
IV. SLEEP AND RELAXATION
Sleep is like putting your brain through a car wash every night; most adults should get 7 to 9 hours per night. A good night’s sleep clears toxins, reduces plaque build-up, re-energizes the cells, and supports learning and memory.
V. SOCIAL INTERACTION
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that regular engagement in social activities helps maintain brain vitality. Social activities include emotional support, work, volunteering, travel, and participation in clubs. One study showed that people who live alone, were single, and reported little or no close social ties had a 60% increased risk of dementia.
VI. MENTAL FITNESS
Memory lapses are very common – especially in people age 65 or old- er. That is because the body begins to experience physiological transitions with age, which often results in a decline in cognitive ability.
A portion of your brain responsible for retrieving information and memories starts to deteriorate as you grow older. When you’re older, you’re more likely to experience less blood flow to the brain, which can negatively im- pact your memory. Also, the chemicals that promote mending impaired brain cells start to decrease with age.
Many studies show that learning a new skill, such as playing the piano or speaking French, can help form new connections in the brain.
In a study from the National Endowment for the Arts, people who learned a second language had sharper memories, better listening skills, greater cognitive flexibility, better problem solving, and higher-order thinking.
Are you looking to try something more intensive? One-on-one brain training has been shown to increase neuroplasticity. An effective program targets attention, auditory processing, and memory, along with visual processing, logic and reasoning, and/ or processing speed to make thinking, learning, reading, and remembering more effortless and faster. Because programs are customized, personal brain training works for all ages—including seniors.