Balanced nutrition: As a general guideline, what is good for the body is also good for the brain. Eating a variety of foods of different colors including cold-water fish which contain omega‑3 fatty acids and avoiding highly processed foods with added ingredients are recommended. Vegetables, particularly green, leafy ones, are also recommended whereas few well known supplements have shown long-term benefits on memory and other cognitive functions.
Stress management: Chronic stress reduces and can even inhibit neurogenesis. Meditation, yoga, and other calming activities are effective in countering stress. Biofeedback devices that measure heart rate variability and show stress levels in real-time offer a more high-tech option to manage stress.
Physical exercise: Physical exercise has been shown to enhance brain physiology in animals and, more recently, in humans. Physical exercise improves learning through increased blood supply and growth hormone levels in the body. Of all the types of physical exercise, cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart beating, from walking to skiing, tennis and basketball, has been shown to have the greatest effect.
Mental stimulation: It strengthens the synapses or connections between neurons, thus improving neuron survival and cognitive functioning. Good mental exercise requires novelty, variety and increasing levels of challenge.
Important take-away: These pillars are complementary, they do not substitute each other. It is important for a person to recognize their starting point, and identify what pillar they may need to focus more on.
For each pillar or lifestyle factor, it is important to be creative in finding a schedule or routine that works for an individual through trial and error.
According to Dr. Art Kramer, the ideal way would be to combine physical and mental stimulation along with social interaction. Now, what can you do to start your healthy-brain lifestyle tomorrow?Â Â Have a look at the several lifestyle tips that are easy to implement.
How to live a brain-healthy lifestyle?
- Eat a variety of foods of different colors without a lot of added ingredients or processes.
- Plan your meals around your vegetables, and then add fruit, protein, dairy, and/or grains.
- Add some cold-water fish to your diet (tuna, salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring), which contain omega‑3 fatty acids.
- Go to the United States Department of Agriculture website at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ to learn what a portion-size is, so you don’t overeat.
- Try to eat more foods low on the Glycemic Index (learn more at www.glycemicindex.com).
- If you can only do one thing, eat more vegetables, particularly leafy green ones.
- Get regular cardiovascular exercise.
- Try to get enough sleep each night (i.e. six to eight hours).
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Practice meditation, yoga, or some other calming activity as a way to take a relaxing time-out.
- Try training with a heart rate variability sensor, like the one in the emWaveÂ® Stress Management programs.
- If you can only do one thing, set aside 5–10 minutes a day to just breathe deeply and recharge.
- Start by talking to your doctor, especially if you are not currently physically active, have special health concerns, or are making significant changes to your current program.
- Set a goal that you can achieve. Do something you enjoy for even just 15 minutes a day; you can always add more time and variety later.
- Schedule exercise into your daily routine. It will become a habit faster if you do.
- If you can only do one thing, do something cardiovascular, i.e. something that gets your heart beating faster. This includes walking, running, skiing, swimming, biking, hiking, tennis, basketball, playing tag, ultimate Frisbee, and other similar sports/activities.
- Do a variety of things, including things you are not good at for novelty (if you like to sing, try painting or dancing).
- Be curious! Get to know your local library and community college, look for local organizations that offer classes and workshops, or join a book club.
- Work puzzles like crosswords and sudoku or play games like chess and bridge. However, make sure to introduce novelty and variety — doing more of the same is not what helps most.
This online resource is based on the content from the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (2013), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.