We all know how deeply valuable our memories are—both of the past and the ones we intend on making in the future. Our memories make us who we are, they’re a living collection of all the experiences we’ll ever have, and the prospect of losing them is frightening. It’s fortunate then that there are completely natural ways of maintaining brain health at any age, and here is how.
There is endless breadth to the volume of studies telling us how depression impairs memory function. In contrast, being happy improves memory function, immune system health, and overall quality of life. We’re never far from something that makes us smile, so smile hard and smile often and you may just start to notice that you wake up each morning happier than the last.
The famous 2003 nun study has shown how even people with clinically significant Alzheimer’s can maintain healthy brain function through consistent socialization, reading, and thinking. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ is certainly most applicable as we age and using your brain every day can ward off most normal symptoms of aging. Chatting with friends, playing a game of cards, reading a good book, and solving crossword puzzles are all fantastic ways to meet this criterion.
Regular exercise, such as walking or swimming, when done consistently, increases a growth factor in the brain called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This growth factor is partially responsible for our ability to form new memories and is absolutely vital for brain function. Be certain you continue moving every day for at least an hour if you want these wonderful effects.
We’ve all heard how important diet is to our overall health and wellness, and this is all the truer as we age. Important then is which foods are the most beneficial for brain health and what volume of those foods we should eat. Since the brain is part of the body, we need both to be in great shape to increase our healthspan and memory. One study suggests that a calorie restrictive diet may lower bad cholesterol, reduce our risk of age-related diseases, and improve vitality. Besides cutting back on food, here are the top foods for brain health:
- Fatty fish: packed with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, oily fish supports brain function, including memory, mood, and age-related cognitive change.
- Nuts: vitamin E, niacin, and DHA are all prevalent in nuts—and a cup a day of nuts may yield a 20% lower death rate.
- Berries: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries benefit the brain in two ways—by providing healthy antioxidants and reducing inflammation in the brain.
- Dark chocolate: Just a small bar a day can improve memory and sensory processing. Eating healthy has never been tastier—so, eat a couple squares of chocolate per day.
It’s not reasonable to try and cram everything we need into our diet day after day. Hence, it’s always a good idea to supplement some of the scarcer nutrients. It’s important to note some supplements can be overconsumed—especially when they’re fat soluble, like most metals. Never take a daily multivitamin and auxiliary supplements at the same time; pick one and stick with it. Speak with your doctor about whether these supplements are right for you:
- Calcium: playing an enormous role in memory and overall brain function, calcium is more than just for your bones. Taking calcium every day would be a smart thing to do—and you’d be wise to remember that!
- Zinc: the highest concentrations of zinc are found in the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for storing and consolidating memory. There is a limit to how much zinc we can have though—and taking no more than 10-15mg a day should be strongly considered.
- CBD: cannabinoids have neuroprotective qualities and reduce inflammation in the brain, as well as joints. There are currently no serious side effects of CBD, so it’s minimal risk to try.
- B12: a safe vitamin with no known risk for overconsumption, vitamin B12 protects against depression, anxiety, anemia, and cognitive decline. When taken at night it can also be a powerful sleep aid.
Guest Contributor: Victoria Ward has always been very passionate about psychology and health. She is a recent graduate with a major in psychology and a minor in neurobiology, focusing on Alzheimer’s, learning, and memory.