Six Pillars of Brain Health
May 29, 2020 02:58PM
By Chrysanthi Kazantzis
Our lifestyle has a major impact on our brain health. What we eat and drink, how much we exercise our body and mind, how well we sleep, how we manage stress and the way we socialize are all critically important for our brain health.
NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
A Mediterranean style diet which is rich in green leafy vegetables, fish, whole grains, olive oil and nuts has been proven to help maintain brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This diet includes following the lifestyle as well, which means cooking and eating fresh food, savoring and being mindful of the taste and enjoying the dining experience with friends and family.
Decreasing intake of food high in saturated fats like processed red meats—hot dogs and sausage—pork, butter and dairy products can help decrease the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids including fish twice per week such as salmon, cod, sardines and haddock, or walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds will help support brain health. Eating a rainbow of colorful foods such as blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, spinach and kale slows aging in the brain due to the high antioxidant content. Using herbs and spices can also help decrease inflammation including turmeric, cinnamon and ginger.
In terms of hydration, avoid sugary drinks as sugar causes brain inflammation. Aim for filtered water and adding lemon or ginger to water. Green tea is high in brain boosting antioxidants and one cup of organic coffee can improve memory and decrease dementia.
Our bodies need to move. Exercise fosters new brain cell growth and preserves existing brain cells. Exercise improves all-over circulation, especially to the brain. It also stimulates chemical changes in the brain that improve mood, thinking and learning.
Find a daily activity that can fit into your life. Various ways of exercising include aerobic: focus on 30 minutes, three to five times per week of moderate intensity; strength: focus on 10 minutes, five times per week of squats, lunges, planks, bicep curls, etc.; flexibility: focus on 10 minutes. five times per week of stretching muscles through full range of motion; and balance: focus on 10 minutes, seven times per week of standing on one leg, standing heel to toe, walking on heels and toes, walking backwards and sideways or yoga/tai chi.
Along with physical fitness, we should all focus on mental fitness. We all have something called a “brain reserve” which helps our brain adapt and respond to changes. This develops in childhood and strengthens through adulthood. Continuing to learn, starting new activities and learning new skills help build and improve the brain reserve. Learning a new skill helps our brain form new connections and strengthen existing ones. We can learn a new language, instrument or start a new hobby like photography. Playing brain games are helpful as well, such as crossword puzzles, chess or card games which improves reaction time and problem solving.
When we rest well, our brain thanks us. Adequate sleep allows the brain to repair its neurons or brain cells which helps us concentrate and focus the next day. Sleep is the only time the brain can clear out toxic wastes accumulated during the day. Without sleep, we don’t remove the waste which can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Follow a regular sleep schedule by going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time which helps reset our circadian rhythm. Develop a bedtime routine such as reading a book, listening to soothing musing or taking a warm bath. Limit screen time 30 minutes before bed including computers, cell phones, TVs and tablets. Bright blue light impacts our melatonin production and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Sleep in complete darkness by using an eye mask or black out curtains to stimulate optimal melatonin production. Aim for a total of seven to nine hours of sleep.
A support system helps reduce stress, decreases depression and improves intellectual stimulation. Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that people with the most social interaction experience the slowest rate of memory decline. Happy relationships and marriages, as well as having a purpose in life, show protective effects to age-related cognitive impairment. Staying physically connected can be more complicated now that we are socially distancing, but technology has made communicating effortless. Set up a FaceTime, Zoom or Skype with a loved one or friend you haven’t connected with in a while.
Stress is inevitable but it can be managed. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, proved that regular meditation keeps our brains healthier. Here are some simple ways to help de-stress. 1) Focus on the present; 2) Give the brain a 10-minute break by sitting in a quiet place and focusing on breathing; 3) Think positively. Motivate yourself. Say, “I can do this; I can figure this out; I’m going to be okay”; 4) Use imagery. Keep a picture of your favorite spot, and when stressed look at the photo, imagining how it feels, looks sounds and smells there; 5) Journaling about what bothers you helps to relieve internal stress; 6) Practice saying “No” if you don’t feel comfortable doing something.
Chrysanthi Kazantzis, ND, (Dr. Kaz) is a naturopathic physician and a clinical nutritionist. She is the President of RIANP and practices at Providence Wholistic Healthcare where she is accepting new patients via telemedicine. Call 401-455-0546 to make an appointment.