PHOTOGRAPH BY SHUTTERSTOCK
Choose a minimum of two tips below to include in your life, and unleash the benefits. But the more you add, the better. Luckily, these 12 brain-boosting strategies are simpler than you might think.
Get at least 8 hours of sleep to boost your creative juices, and start with these 50 tips for better sleep to immediately improve your rest time.
Seriously, you can sleep your way to a healthier brain, and that’s a strategy even couch potatoes can appreciate. According to new research at the University of Notre Dame and Boston College, getting at least 8 hours of sleep helps your brain to think more creatively. The scientists also found that people who get more sleep are better able to organize memories and reconfigure them in a way that produces new insights and creative ideas. From this study, researchers determined that sleep helps consolidate memories, fixing them in your brain so you can retrieve them later.
Challenge your mind to boost connections between brain cells. More and more research shows that, similar to muscles that get out of shape when they’re not used regularly, your brain needs to be challenged on a regular basis for optimal performance.
To illustrate your brain’s miraculous ability to constantly fine-tune the connections it keeps or loses, let’s look at language skills. Remember those second languages we learned in high school? When you start learning a new language, your brain sets up all kinds of synapses linked to languages, but over time, if you don’t maintain the new language synapses linked to learning, you may forget what you’ve learned. That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a new language or other skills at some future time, but it will be easier if you continuously use this particular skill set throughout your life, so don’t doubt thebenefits of being bilingual.
It’s time to dust off those language books, head to a new class, call up a friend to play chess, or simply challenge your mind more on the job. There are not only mental health benefits to pushing yourself intellectually, but there are serious brain health advantages, too. There is no limit to the skills you can acquire. Set some new intellectual goals and begin today to work toward achieving them.
Add a natural antibiotic to knock out brain-damaging Helicobacter pyloriinfections. When it comes to our brain health, memory, and cognitive function, few people think of infections. Conversely, when we think of the infectious bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), people who are familiar with the bacteria think of ulcers. But more and more research links this menacing microbe with poor mental function, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
While many doctors prescribe antibiotics, H. pylori is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic drugs. That means these drugs will have limited, if any, effectiveness in eliminating the infection.
Additional research shows that specific strains of probiotics also have the ability to treat H. pylori infections on their own. Naturally occurring compounds found in cranberry juice have been shown in many studies to be effective against H. pylori infections. Oregano oil has demonstrated significant effectiveness against H. pylori infections on its own, but it usually works most effectively when taken with other antibacterial remedies, because they tend to have synergistic effects.
Try something new to build new brain connections and boost memory. We are creatures of habit. We usually take the same route to and from work. We frequently eat the same 10 or 20 foods on a regular basis. We watch the same television shows every week. We use the same household products and shop in the same stores. We go to the same coffee shops or restaurants.
The simple act of trying new things or taking a different route home from work actually strengthens the connections between brain cells or builds new connections in your brain. This doesn’t have to mean something extreme, like base jumping or rock climbing; simple things, like cooking something different for dinner, talking with new people, going to a gallery, or taking a class to learn a new skill all build new pathways in your brain to improve memory.
Stress can cause a significant decline in energy available for your brain, particularly if the stress is chronic or if you have been leading a stressful life for an extended period of time. This can result in memory loss. That’s because stress signals your adrenal glands, two triangular-shaped glands that sit atop your kidneys, to release powerful hormones. These hormones reduce the capacity of your brain to utilize glucose (sugar) as energy. When stress becomes chronic, this ongoing release of hormones actually starves your brain of its fuel and lessens brain energy. One of the most immediate symptoms is memory loss or impaired memory.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the stresses in life and to put ourselves and our health needs last, but it is important to start considering the long-term effects of doing so. Make your brain health a priority today and every day by making some simple changes in your life to live stress-free.
Called the “second brain” by leading scientists, a healthy balance of flora in your gut helps to determine whether you’ll have a great memory and a strong resistance to brain disease. And what happens in your gut plays a significant role in your brain health. Restoring beneficial bacteria and some healthy yeasts in your intestines can go a long way toward protecting your mental faculties and preventing brain diseases altogether.
Take a probiotic supplement (check out the most-recommended picks from a detox expert) containing proven strains of brain-boosting probiotics such as L. plantarum, B. longum, and L. helveticus on a daily basis. Store your probiotics in the refrigerator and take them on an empty stomach. (First thing in the morning with a large glass of water tends to work well for most people.)
Additionally, kimchi—the national dish of Korea, which is typically a fermented mixture of cabbage, chiles, and garlic—frequently contains the brain-boosting probiotic strain L. plantarum, among many other beneficial microbes. It is an excellent condiment that works well on sandwiches, over brown rice, or as a side dish. Be sure to choose kimchi that hasn’t been pasteurized to ensure that the cultures are still intact.
Stop cognitive decline in its tracks with simple tai chi or qigong exercises. Not only is tai chi a beautiful and graceful form of exercise, it also offers brain health benefits, according to numerous studies.
It’s easy to start benefiting from tai chi or qigong exercises. Sign up for a local class, pick up an instructional video from your library or online bookstore, or follow along with a book on the topic. Whatever you choose, the brain health rewards will be worth the effort.
Meditate to quell the brain-damaging effects of stress. Meditation is quite effective for lessening stress and the resulting stress hormones that have a negative impact on your brain. Many people associate meditation with religion, but it is actually a simple technique that transcends religious beliefs. It is a mental vacation from the stresses of daily life whereby you center your mind and create a sense of peacefulness. The rewards are worth the minimal effort.
You can choose a beginner meditation, breathing meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation, mindfulness meditation, guided meditation,visualization, or prayer. Most of these types of meditation indicate what is involved. Commit to meditating for at least 10 minutes per day. Simply let go of thoughts that come to your mind. Meditation is like any other activity. Most of us need practice and patience to get the hang of it. And if you’re just not disciplined enough to do it on your own, sign up for a local meditation group in your area.
It’s easier than you think to reap the memory benefits of stretching andexercise. Choose two days a week to perform stretching exercises for one hour each day. Choose an additional two days a week to cycle or perform another form of cardiovascular activity for at least one hour each day. (Keep in mind that the study participants cycled at their target heart rates for 45 minutes before engaging in a 15-minute cooldown.)
The road to brain health may be more of a puzzling path—one filled with games and puzzles, that is. According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, any activity that stimulates the part of your brain that handles planning, memory, and abstract thinking offers a twofold benefit, strengthening both your brain and your immune system. That includes doing puzzles or playing games on a regular basis.
That means: dig out Scrabble or a jigsaw puzzle, or do the crossword or sudoku in your daily newspaper.
You don’t often think about taking your brain on a brisk walk or run, but that’s the advice British researchers are offering after studying the potential ability ofexercise to stave off dementia.
You don’t need any expensive equipment or designer gear to benefit from the research that links walking and exercise to a healthier brain and a reduced risk of brain diseases such as depression. All you have to do is motivate yourself to get moving every day. If you find it easier at a certain time of day, then stick to that time every day, at least 5 days a week. You could walk home from work instead of driving. Or you could take the stairs instead of an elevator. Or before you crash in front of the television after dinner, head outside for a walk. There’s no wrong way. Just do whatever works best for you, or implement any of these ways to move more during the day.
You’ve already learned which foods and ingredients you should never eat, as well as which ones are the best brain foods, but when it comes to eating for a healthy brain, there is more to the equation.
New research shows that overeating may double your risk of memory loss. Cutting calories and eating healthy does more than preserve your physical health—it also protects your brain from significant memory loss. Looked at another way, habitual overeating appears to directly cause memory loss and cognitive impairment.