No one likes thinking that their brain health is at risk. But as we age, we experience brain changes that can leave us feeling unfocused, scatterbrained, and feeling like we can’t remember things we once did.
Brain function is complicated, but supporting it doesn’t have to be. We’ll discuss cognitive health and changes that can occur with age, and give you seven ways to support your cognitive abilities and retain your mental sharpness.
What is Cognitive Health?
Cognitive health is a part of neuropsychology that focuses on the cognitive and behavioral abilities of the brain. REF#2823
These include functions like:
- Memory REF#2824
- Intuition REF#2824
- The ability to learn new information and retain it REF#2824
- Judgment and decision-making
- Language REF#2824
Cognitive health is essential for maintaining independence and taking care of ourselves. When cognitive health declines, our quality of life may begin to decline with it. Understanding the changes that accompany cognitive decline is an important step in learning how to protect a healthy brain.
What is Cognitive Decline?
Cognitive decline can refer to a spectrum of mild to severe issues that cause cognition to become impaired. Subjective cognitive decline, for instance, is a mild cognitive impairment that is self-reported. REF#2824 People who experience it report an increase in feelings of confusion, worsening memory loss, and a general inability to focus as they once did. REF#2824
Mild cognitive impairment lies at one end of the spectrum of cognitive issues, and cognitive disorders lie at the opposite end. The reasons why cognitive decline occurs is usually age-related, but there can be other reasons that increase a person’s risk of developing cognitive decline earlier than they should.
- Age: The single most common factor for an increased risk of cognitive decline is aging. REF#2825 REF#2828
- Genetics: If you have a close loved one (a parent or sibling) that has experienced cognitive decline, you’re at higher risk of developing cognitive decline. REF#2825
- Health: Your personal physiology and health conditions play a role in whether or not you will experience cognitive decline. REF#2825
- Diseases: Some disease, such as Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, can increase risk factors for developing cognitive impairment. REF#2825
- Stroke: Strokes can change the way your brain functions, and lead to cognitive decline. REF#2825
- Brain injury: Sustaining a brain injury may lead to cognitive decline, and it may also impact the brain’s neuroplasticity, or its ability to reshape, rewire, and regain function after an injury. REF#2825
- Drugs and toxins: Drug abuse and exposure to other toxins can interfere with your brain function and lead to major health problems including cognitive decline. REF#2825
- Diabetes: Untreated diabetes can lead to blood vessel damage. When the blood vessels in the brain are damaged, cognitive impairment may follow. REF#2825
It may sound grim that cognitive decline relies heavily on age. Thankfully, you can support your body by caring for it at the age it is now and ensuring that it can thrive as you get older.
Supporting cognitive function requires a few lifestyle adjustments that can have the convenient benefit of supporting your overall well-being.
7 Ways to Support Cognitive Function Naturally
The best news about cognitive function is that protecting and supporting it involves doing things that naturally support a healthy lifestyle. In other words, you don’t have to spend an excessive amount of time or money to stay brain-healthy and protect your ability to thrive. Here are seven easy ways to boost your brain health and support healthy cognition.
1. Take Care of Your Metabolic Health
Metabolic health is a hot topic because unbalanced metabolic health is responsible for many age-related diseases and illnesses affecting the general population. Your metabolic health includes:
- Blood sugar
Ensuring your metabolic health measures stay within a healthy range can significantly reduce your risk factors for developing issues with your cognitive health.REF#2825
2. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important and most overlooked facets of our total health and wellness. Most adults need somewhere between seven to nine hours of good, quality sleep per night. Missing sleep creates a “sleep debt” that can only be “paid off” with more sleep.
For your brain, sleep is essential. The human brain depends on sleep cycles for repair and restoration.REF#2826 Missing sleep can affect your mental capacity daily and interfere with your ability to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Your physical health depends on it, and as it turns out, your mental health depends on it as well. The neuroscience of physical activity is fascinating, helping support your brain’s ability to restructure itself and increase mental capacity. REF#2827 Exercise can also support serotonin levels in the brain, which can have a profound impact on mood. REF#2827
Physical activity also supports neurogenesis, or the ability of the brain to grow new tissue, repair brain structure, and change neuron pathways to sustain cognitive function. REF#2827
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
You really are what you eat, especially in terms of brain health! A diet filled with trans fats, preservatives, and added sugar can negatively impact all aspects of your health and brain function.
Want to bulk up on brain food? Look for foods that contain antioxidants.
Antioxidants are essential for protecting your cells against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. Free radicals are released in the body when we are exposed to external stressors like UV rays, cigarette smoke, and pollution. Antioxidants can help keep our cells protected from oxidative stress, which can lead to damaged cellular DNA.
Other good options for brain-healthy foods include fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limited amounts of red meat and processed foods.REF#2826
5. Stay Mentally Active
Keeping your brain healthy means using it. Playing games, engaging in social activities, having meaningful conversations with caregivers and loved ones, and enjoying hobbies can all help keep the brain active.
These practices are essential for older adults, who may rely less on mental cognitive activities after retirement, right as their cognitive health may begin to decline.
6. Limit Alcohol Consumption
You may have heard that limited amounts of alcohol has potential health benefits for brain health. REF#2826 The reality is, the risks of alcohol consumption and related illnesses doesn’t outweigh the benefits of consuming it. Health care providers do not advise alcohol consumption as a means of protecting your cognitive health. REF#2824
In fact, overconsumption of alcohol is directly associated with a 22 percent increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. REF#2824 If you do drink, limit your consumption to one drink per day or less for women and two drinks per day or less for men.
7. Consider a Supplement
For hundreds of years, traditional medicine has relied on herbal remedies for supporting focus and brain health. You can support your brain health and enjoy better cognitive health with the assistance of herbs that nourish and support the brain. Two we love are Lion’s Mane Mushroom and Ginkgo Leaf.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom. This adaptogenic herb can help support and recalibrate your body’s natural stress response, which helps with cognitive function and mental focus. REF#2829
- Gingko Leaf. Ginkgo has been used in teas and tinctures in traditional therapies for a millenia, and now the western world has access to its ability to help support mental clarity and wellness. Ginkgo leaves are rich in plant compounds that can naturally support healthy cognitive function. REF#2830
Adding a daily brain health supplement to your health stack is generally a smart idea. If you have trouble remembering things, consider this your reminder to add it to your to-do list.
Healthy Brains: Healthy Minds
Keeping our brains and minds functioning properly is important, especially as we age. Taking control of our lifestyle habits can help us enjoy better brain and cognitive function. In addition to checking those boxes, add trusted herbal remedies to your list and enjoy the brain benefits that many cultures have relied on for years.
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