Hear from our expert:
New research shows certain lifestyle modifications can actually help to improve brain health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 16 million Americans are living with some form of cognitive impairment.1 The number of people age 65 and older projected to be living with Alzheimer’s in 2050 is expected to swell from the current 5.1 million to 13.2 million. But a growing body of new research holds promise to improve and protect brain health and possibly stave off dementia and cognitive decline.
Implementing the strategies found in these studies can help you learn how to boost your brain health and aid in the fight of curbing dementia.
Although experts have yet to concretely connect the dots explaining why sleep problems are associated with early indications of Alzheimer’s, numerous studies conducted over the past few decades link sleep disturbances to poor brain health.
This research includes a recent study from Boston University Medical Center where obstructive sleep apnea, the sleep condition that causes brief periods of partial or complete stoppage of breathing, was linked with higher rates of cognitive impairment.2 A key to preventing brain decline is asking your sleep partner if he or she has noticed you snoring or stopping breathing while sleeping. You should also discuss any daytime sleepiness with your physician and ask if you should be screened for sleep apnea.
Sure it’s great for your waistline, but a new study from New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) found walking can give your brain health a big boost, too.3 The impact of your foot hitting the ground produces pressure waves in your body that significantly increase blood flow to your brain to help preventing dementia. And along with an overall sense of well-being, those surges of blood help maintain health and cognitive function.
When you hit the road, don’t pressure yourself to jog or trot. The researchers found that even though your foot’s impact with the ground is lighter when you walk than when you run, walking still produces larger pressure waves in the body that significantly increase blood flow to the brain. And since there’s no contact between your foot and the ground when riding a bike, cycling had no effect on beneficial pressure waves in the brain.
Although a healthy and balanced diet is known to promote brain health, researchers have yet to pinpoint the connection between what you eat and preventing dementia. But a new study by the University of Illinois says found that monounsaturated fatty acids—nutrients found in olive oils, nuts and avocados—may hold the key to having a healthy brain.4
Foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids are key components of the Mediterranean diet, which is also linked to protecting long-term brain health. Eating foods rich in these acids is believed to contribute to optimal functioning of the networking in your brain responsible for preserving cognition.
Find Your Zen
Just 25 minutes a day of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.5
This type of yoga and mindfulness focuses the brain’s processing power on a select number of things like your breathing or a yoga pose. These exercises improve focus and concentration in everyday life.
Get plenty of Vitamin C
Vitamin C appears to be good for more than fighting a nasty cold, it is thought to have a significant impact on cognition, according to two new 6 2017 studies.7 The vitamin, found in OJ, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bell peppers and kiwi is thought to lower oxidative stress (when free radicals are more powerful that the body’s ability to fight them) which can cause a decline in brain health and overall well-being.
Be Heart Smart
A new advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA) says the same risk factors that cause heart disease are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. 8 The connection is believed to be adequate blood flow, which both the heart and brain need to function properly.
As you age, blood vessels can slowly become narrow, preventing optimum blood flow throughout your body. This form of heart disease is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes. But it also causes damage to blood vessels leading in and out of the brain, which threatens brain health.
Most risk factors for narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, can be lessened with a heart-healthy diet, daily physical activity, avoiding tobacco products and monitoring/controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Exercising four times a week can lead to increased brain volume, and was shown to slow the progression of mild cognitive impairment in adults battling poor brain health, says a 2016 study from the Radiological Society of North America.9
But not all exercise is equal. The data found that while any exercise can create the potential for preventing dementia, aerobic exercise (swimming, walking, running, biking, etc.) was the best way to increase gray matter in the brain and trigger other beneficial changes.
Manage your Blood Sugar
High blood sugar has been shown to be connected to lower brain functioning, in several studies, including one from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.10 This could be one explanation for the increased risk of Alzheimer’s in those living with Type 2 diabetes. The study showed that just a one percent increase in A1C, the 2- to 3-month blood glucose average, is associated with lower brain health score on a series of cognitive function and memory tests.
Break up With your Coffee Cup
Filling your morning mug with tea—instead of coffee—can lessen the risk of cognitive impairment, according to a new study from the National University of Singapore.11 The researchers found a cup of tea a day lowers the risk of cognitive decline by 50 percent. Those who carry the APOE e4 gene, a genetic biomarker that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, may experience a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by as much as 86 percent.
The brain health-boosting power is in compounds in tea leaves including catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine that all exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential believed to protect the brain from vascular damage and cognitive impairment.