Cognitive health tends to be a popular topic in today’s world. The brain is often times referred to as the “control center” of the body due to its regulation in many functions of the body. Many think cognitive ability is only about intelligence. However, there are many aspects to cognitive function, which includes the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember. If the brain is not functioning correctly, it can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. It is extremely vital to keep the brain healthy in order to maintain, and possibly boost, mental capability. Unfortunately, most people start to notice a significant decline in cognition after trouble has already kicked in. To help prevent a rapid decline in cognitive health and perhaps improve it, individuals need to make certain lifestyle modifications. Now, there isn’t a magic pill or single method to improve cognitive ability unfortunately. Rather, it is a combination of things that can improve the brains ability to think, learn, and remember. So, how can you improve cognitive ability and properly maintain it? In this article, methods directed toward helping to maintain and potentially boost cognitive ability will be discussed.
Eating healthy foods of vast variety plays a crucial role in the health of individuals and the proper functioning of organs within the body, specifically the brain. Providing the brain with the necessary vitamins and minerals can potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline and certain cognitive altering diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research has demonstrated that eating specific foods or following a particular diet affects the aging brains ability to think and remember. Specifically, following the Mediterranean or the MIND diet may help maintain cognitive ability and prevent degenerative brain diseases. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes certain foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish and other seafood, unsaturated fats, and low amounts of red meat, eggs, and sweets. The MIND diet is a variation of the Mediterranean diet as it also incorporates the DASH diet, which is a dietary approach to lower blood pressure; a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The MIND diet also focuses on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, legumes, and unsaturated fats while limiting the amount of red meat, sweets, cheese, butter, and fast/fried food. The MIND diet also suggests drinking one glass of wine per day, as studies have shown consuming red wine in moderation increases high density lipoproteins (the good cholesterol) and helps protect against artery damage which may lower blood pressure. Following either one of the diets mentioned offers an individual the possibility to prevent and slow the progression of cognitive deterioration.
Below are the ways which describe how to maintain and boost cognitive ability
Staying Physically Active
Research has linked ongoing physical activity and regular exercise with benefits for the brain. Interestingly, exercise stimulates the human brains ability to maintain old neurological network connections and develop new ones that are essential for cognitive health. Exercise has also been shown to increase the size of the brain structure important for memory and learning, which in turn improves spatial memory. It is recommended by federal guidelines that all adults should get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. It is important to start slow in order to teach the body to move safely and prevent falls, which ultimately can lead to brain injuries. Walking is a great place to start and one should strive to move about 30 min each day. With a daily routine of physical activity, individuals have the ability to increase performance in working memory, cognitive flexibility, and speed of information processing.1,3
Keeping the Brain Active
Keeping the brain active is crucial in maintaining cognitive ability. As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it you lose it.” If one is not challenging themselves intellectually, cognitive ability may start to decline. People who engage in meaningful activities often report feeling more happy and healthier. Intellectually challenging oneself not only aids in maintaining brain function, it may also improve thinking ability too. Learning new skills or a new language are some activities that appropriately challenge the brain. In one study, older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities. The important thing is to continuously stimulate the brain on a daily basis in order to “exercise” it and keep it strong.1
Watch What You Consume
Consumption of certain compounds and chemicals can hamper brain function significantly. One of these includes the use of certain medications. Some medicines and combinations of medicines can alter an individual’s thinking ability and how the brain works. Certain medications have the consequences of introducing confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, or delusions to a person. Some drugs that can diminish older adults’ cognition include antihistamines, anxiety/depression medications, sleep aids, antipsychotics, some drugs to treat urinary incontinence, medications that relief cramps in the stomach/intestines/bladder, and muscle relaxants. Of course, if an individual requires these certain medications for particular health concerns, then it is obviously necessary. But if they are not needed or can be avoided, this may improve an individual’s brain function. Another chemical that can deteriorate cognition is tobacco. Smoking is harmful to both the body and brain. It also raises the risk of stroke occurrence, which could significantly damage the brain. Smoking cessation should be at the top of the list if someone is looking to maintain and boost their cognitive ability.1
Obtaining a good nights sleep is directly related to brain health. This not only refers to the time of sleep, but also the quality. Not getting enough sleep or sleeping poorly has the potential to alter the brains ability to memorize, concentrate, and other cognitive functions. An individual should strive to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.1
Currently, there is no effective single preventative strategy for cognitive decline and improvement. Rather, it is a combination of methods that are directly related to cognitive health that affords individuals the best chance to improve brain function. Utilizing the above recommendations is a great place to start if one is searching to improve their cognitive health. Cognitive decline is inevitable as people age, but controlling the aging process of the brain now, rather than later, influences the longevity of cognitive ability.
- Cognitive Health and Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults. Published May 17,2017. Accessed July 11, 2020.
- What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease? National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease. Published November 27, 2019. Accessed July 11, 2020.
- Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018;9:509. Published 2018 Apr 27. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509