10 Healthy Habits that Boost Brainpower and Mental Sharpness from 10 Healthy Habits that Boost Brainpower and Mental Sharpness

10 Healthy Habits that Boost Brainpower and Mental Sharpness

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10 Healthy Habits that Boost Brainpower and Mental Sharpness

When we think of “boosting brainpower,” tasks like crossword puzzles, reading and even learning a new language might first come to mind.

While these things can certainly help to improve intelligence and mental clarity, what likely has an even larger affect is the ordinary choices we make on a daily basis.

From the foods we eat to the amount we sleep each night, our daily habits shape the way our brains continue to grow and function.

Whether you’re looking for a way to improve your focus, enhance your intellect or simply just want to ensure your brain stays sharp and healthy now and later on in life, the following healthy habits are proven ways to protect and enrich your mind.

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Keeping Your Gut Healthy

A growing body of research shows that the condition of the digestive system actually plays a pretty significant role in our overall health. Specifically, researchers are finding a strong link between digestive health and the brain. “The bacteria that reside in the gut appear to play an important role and are able to communicate with the central nervous system notably through neural, endocrine and immune pathways,” says Dr. Helene M. Savignac Ph.D., an expert in neuropsychology, cognitive and behavioral science, and the brain research manager for Clasado Research Services Ltd. “By influencing the balance and types of bacteria present, studies show that it may be possible to lower stress, affect cognition/brain processes and mood.” What can you do to enhance your digestive health? Well, to start, certain foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and coconut keifer can help maintain the “good” bacteria needed to keep your gut running smoothly. Additionally, you can follow these six simple steps to better digestive health

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Making Sleep a Priority

Sleep is so important for many different reasons. Sleep deprivation — especially when it’s chronic — can negatively affect nearly every aspect of your health, but it especially takes a toll on the brain. According to an infographic on Mic.com, lack of sleep can cause long-term memory loss, emotional instability, feelings of fogginess and confusion, and even brain shrinkage— just to name a few of the negative effects. What’s more, according to Help Guide experts Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, some studies have shown that regular, quality sleep is necessary for flushing toxins from the brain. 

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Eating Your Veggies

There are a wide range of nutrients and different foods that promote healthy brain function. In particular, though, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy and Brussels sprouts may be especially beneficial. “These vegetables are rich sources of minerals, vitamins and many important phytochemicals; especially many sulfur containing compounds,” explains Dr. Michael S. Fenster, M.D., a board certified interventional cardiologist and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It. “As such, they help our bodies deal with oxidative stress by providing a natural source of antioxidants.” Fenster says these effects lower the risk for cancer and promote heart health, which ultimately reduces conditions that negatively affect brain function. “Diets rich in these types of vegetables have been associated with less decline in memory, attention and verbal abilities,” he added. To go one step beyond just veggies, it’s also worth noting that some studies have shown the Mediterranean Diet is particularly helpful in preventing cognitive decline as well. 

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Exercising Regularly

Study after study continues to show that regular exercise is one of the best ways to ensure your brain will stay healthy and sharp. The connection between exercise and improved cognitive function is so strong that researchers have recently moved on to figuring out exactly how the two factors are associated. Regardless, by keeping up with a regular workout routine, you’re benefiting your brainpower by improving functions like task switching, selective attention and working memory capacity. Plus, some research has shown that exercise even increases brain volume

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Managing Stress

Jennifer Owens, an integrative mental health and wellness expert who has been working in the holistic health field for more than a decade specializing in stress and anxiety management, points to studies that show how relaxing activities like meditation can increase gray matter in the brain. “Increased grey matter can make the brain better at managing emotions, controlling attention, maintaining focus and more,” she explained. Additionally, other studies have shown that stress may lead to brain shrinkage, so finding a method of stress-management — like deep breathing or other relaxing activities such as yogameditation or walking — that works well for you is essential for maintaining a healthy brain.

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Being Social

Research has shown that social engagement not only helps improve our memory and cognition, but that it may even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia later on in life — try volunteering, joining a club, taking group exercise classes or making a weekly date with a group of friends.

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Practicing Yoga

Yes, yoga might actually make you smarter. One study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that 20 minutes of yoga enabled 30 female subjects to better complete mental tasks that tested the speed and accuracy of their working memory and other measures of cognitive function. Plus, the results showed that yoga may be even more powerful when it comes to boosting brainpower when compared to intense aerobic exercise. 

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Lifting Weights

If you really want to improve the power of your mind, research shows that in addition to aerobic exercise and yoga, you should also include some strength training in your fitness routine. According to one study, two resistance training sessions a week helped to improve brain performance in older women with mild cognitive impairment. "What our results show is that resistance training can indeed improve both your cognitive performance and your brain function," professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose, who led the study at the University of British Columbia, told CBC News. "What is key is that it will improve two processes that are highly sensitive to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration: executive function and associative memory — often impaired in early stages of Alzheimer's disease."

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Enjoying Alcohol in Moderation

If you like to enjoy a cocktail every now and then, the good news is that some research has shown that a daily drink may actually help to prevent against cognitive decline. The bad news is, by going overboard with alcohol, you’re likely putting the health of your brain (and other parts of your body and overall health) in danger. According to the National Institutes of Health, long-term heavy drinking can actually shrink the frontal lobes of your brain, which leads to impaired thinking skills. Additionally, a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism), found a reduction in white matter pathways in the brains of recovering alcoholics, when compared with non-alcoholics. According to study co-author Catherine Brawn Fortier, a neuropsychologist and researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, white matter connects the frontal lobes to the rest of the brain. "The frontal cortex is the integration center for all other parts of the brain that are important to behavior and cognitive function,” she said. “These pathways support self-monitoring, planning, judgment, and reasoning." In other words, if you want to keep your mind sharp and healthy, keep your cocktail count to about one drink a day or less. 

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Not Smoking

According to Eric Topol, M.D., the Men’s Health cardiology advisor, among other factors like poor blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, smoking accelerates the natural degeneration of the brain that comes along with age. These factors, he noted, “promote heart disease, and are critical to our blood supply and plenty of brain-heart interactions.” Plus, in addition to the large toll it takes on so many aspects of overall health, some research has shown that smoking may cause thinning in the cortex of the brain, where, according to WebMD, important processes like memory, language and perception take place. 

10 Healthy Habits that Boost Brainpower and Mental Sharpness