All of us want to have a healthy brain and a strong memory, but how we actually achieve that can be a bit confusing. You might feel overwhelmed by which foods to eat and if you should be taking supplements, which exercises to do, or if meditation really works. There’s a lot of information out there, so it’s easy to get lost.
To help you make sense of it all, we’ve listed some important areas to focus on for a healthy brain and stronger memory.
Diet & Supplements That Can Help Improve Memory
Studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to better brain function and improved memory, especially in older adults. Foods traditional to this region are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B and D. Research shows following a Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced rate of stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression.
A Mediterranean diet is characterized by:
- Plant-based foods — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
- Low-carb — no white rice or white bread
- Healthy fats — like olive oil, instead of margarine or butter
- Herbs and spices — instead of salt to flavor food
- High protein — lean meats, like salmon and poultry, 3 or 4 times per week
- Low red meat — no more than a few times per month
Some people may also benefit from taking brain-healthy supplements like omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), vitamin B12, B9, and vitamin D.
DHA and EPA are thought to help grow the size of the hippocampus (the area of the brain critical for memory and learning) and vitamin D is crucial for helping the hippocampus function well. Vitamin B12 is essential for better attention and the quick processing of information, but in order for B12 to be effective, B9 needs to also be present.
Check with your doctor before starting a new diet or supplement regimen.
Physical Fitness for Memory Improvement
When you keep your heart and body fit, you increase blood flow to your brain, which can improve your memory, attention, mood, and sleep. In fact, one study showed that the hippocampus grows larger in individuals who simply take up consistent, regular exercise, such as frequent, brisk walking.
Exercises like yoga are also a great way to work out your body and your mind at the same time. The breath-focused and meditative qualities of yoga have been shown to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is thought to be harmful to the brain.
Cognitive Exercises & Brain Training for Memory
One way to think about brain training is like giving your brain a workout – it’s a way to strengthen the areas of your brain that aren’t working as well as they could be. One way to do this is through neurofeedback. Neurofeedback uses a subconscious reward system to train your brain to work differently.
Alternatively, where neurofeedback is subconscious, cognitive exercises are conscious. These might include driving a different way home one day or using your non-dominant hand to dial the phone. These kinds of activities cross-train different areas of the brain, leading to an overall healthier brain. Combining brain training with cognitive exercises is a great way to give your brain a well-rounded workout.
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Godman, Heidi. (2014, April 9). “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, ThinkingSkills.” Retricved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, November 3). “Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan.” Retrived from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
Melone, Linda. (2015, April 16). “10 Brain Exercises That Boost Memory.” Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/mental-fitness/brain-exercises-for-memory.aspx
Pottala J V et al. Neurology 2014, 82:435-442.
Valls-Pedret C, Sala-Vila A, Serra-Mir M, et al. “Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094–1103. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668
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