When I discuss fitness with my patients, they’re often surprised when I tell them they need to also consider the fitness of their brain too. Many people don’t know that a healthy brain not only helps sharpen their memory but it also helps prevent other diseases as well.
Today, I’d like to share with you some things I recommend to my patients to keep their brain fit. These include nutrition, little games you can fit into a few minutes of your day, and longer “exercises” that mix things up to give your brain a good workout. First, let’s start with one of the basic building blocks of good brain health – nutrition.
Feed Your Brain with Optimum Nutrition
- Protein – Your brain thrives on protein, especially the proteins lysine and arginine which helps build brain cells. Good sources are fish, eggs, yogurt, nuts.
- Water – Your brain is over 80% water, so becoming dehydrated saps your brain power as much as the rest of you. Drink half your weight in water every day!
- Fats – Your brain also contains a large percentage of fat. That’s where beneficial Omega-3 fats and ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) fats come in. Omega-3 fats help brain cells communicate and absorb new information. Best sources are fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, avocado, and olive oil. ALA helps sharpen sensory receptors so that you can smell, taste, and obtain pleasure from your senses. Best sources are flax seeds/oil.
- Dark Chocolate – The higher the percentage of cacao (75% or more), the better. Dark chocolate delivers a chemical called serotonin to your brain that calms it (and you!) and creates a happy, even mood. Go for organic varieties.
- B Vitamins – Especially B12 and niacin, either in supplement form or by eating spinach, kale, arugula, and other B loaded vegetables.
- Coffee – Studies show that most people think quicker and clearer after having a cup of coffee, or 2, in the morning, or during “slump time” in the afternoon. However, don’t overdo a good thing. 2-4 cups a day is a safe level. Beyond that, you can stress your adrenals and kidneys, dehydrate yourself, cause heart palpitations, headaches, and diarrhea. Try half-calf coffee to get a little caffeine boost without all the side effects.
- Carbs – Carbs are beneficial to both your brain and the rest of you! They help create serotonin, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine, all “feel good” brain chemicals that keep your brain humming along. Go for low glycemic index, slow carbs, like fresh fruit, legumes, and whole grains like oats, brown/wild rice, and quinoa.
- Blueberries and Pomegranates – Especially wild blueberries, and pomegranate fruit versus the juice. Both contain high levels of antioxidants which research shows protects your memory and improve thinking.
- DMAE and Gingko – Two brain superstars, helps with memory, and clear thinking.
Challenge Yourself and Grow Your Brain!
There’s a saying, “If you want to keep getting what you’re getting, keep doing what you’re doing”. If your memory is sharp and your mood is great, then you’re likely stimulating your brain frequently. Maybe you read a book, or do crossword puzzles, or engage in stimulating conversations with others – all things that rev up your brainpower.
However, for many of my patients this isn’t the case. Some of my over 40 patients frequently are moody, with low energy, stressed out, and not much interest in things. They’ve gotten into a rut in what they do everyday in their lives and, quite frankly, are operating in a sort of unconscious unhealthy, pattern. You might not know this, but your brain thrives on change! To grow new brain cells and replace old, worn out ones, you must continuously stimulate it by learning new things, or even just doing old things a new way!
Here are some fun and effective “neurobic” suggestions to exercise your brain and keep it healthy!
- Get dressed or shower in the dark
- Switch your watch or jewelry to your opposite hand/wrist
- Use your opposite hand to comb your hair, brush your teeth, apply make-up
- Do crossword puzzles, pattern matching pictures, jigsaw puzzles
- Read a book about a subject you know nothing about
- Memorize a poem
- Take musical instrument lessons
- Join a discussion group – something rousing such as politics or religion.
- Take a dance class – good for coordination
- Do 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise a day – helps clear environmental toxins and stress that can affect your brain performance
- Smell the coffee, and other scents like sandalwood and frankincense which research shows have the ability to increase the oxygen in the brain.
- Take a different way to work or home once or twice a week.
- Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks a day. Too much alcohol shrinks your brain volume.
- Listen to music, especially when you exercise! Recent research has shown that people who listen to music while they exercise boosted their brain’s cognitive power twice as much as those who didn’t.
Taking care of your brain is crucial to staying healthy, youthful, and mentally vibrant well into your golden years! Give your brain (and your body!) an hour a day to recharge, replace old cells, and stimulate brain endorphins into the happy zone. A mere 15 minutes, here and there throughout your day can reward you with a brighter, healthier you that can help you accomplish all those projects you’ve been dreaming of!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.