6 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Brain HealthMaggie Clerkin, M.S., CCC-SLP
Your brain is the control center for your body. It’s important to take care of it, so it can take care of you. Read on to learn some simple ways to keep your brain healthy, along with signs of cognitive decline and how speech therapy can help.
What is “brain health?”
We know maintaining brain health improves quality of life. But what exactly does “brain health” mean?
Brain health is how well someone’s mind functions across different areas. According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health includes:
Cognition: Thinking, learning, remembering
Motor function: Moving, balancing
Emotional function: Interpreting and responding to emotions
Tactile function: Feeling and responding to touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature
6 ways you can improve your brain health
Minds stay healthy and working well because of a variety of factors. Some things, like genetics, are out of our control. But there are many lifestyle choices you can make that have a positive impact on your memory, thinking skills, and overall brain function.
1 Exercise regularly
Staying active improves blood flow and memory. Aerobic activity (such as biking and swimming), strength training (such as lifting weights and doing Pilates), and balance activity (such as yoga and tai chi) are all important forms of exercise. Don’t be afraid to mix it up! Variety is good. Consider lifting weights one day and taking a long walk the next. Normal daily activities like gardening and raking are also great ways to hit your exercise quota.
2 Get enough sleep
According to the CDC, one-third of Americans report they get less than the recommended amount of 7+ hours of sleep per night. Good rest improves your energy and thinking skills. If getting enough sleep is hard for you, consider creating a healthy bedtime routine. Avoid screen time, exercise, caffeine, and heavy meals right before bed. Instead, engage in relaxing activities. You might read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm tub.
3 Socialize with others
Connecting with other people can improve cognition and may slow the rate of memory decline. Visit family and friends, volunteer, join a club or support group, or simply take a moment to chat with the cashier at the grocery store. Try to lean into moments of connection throughout your week to positively impact your brain health.
4 Eat a healthy diet
Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also help keep your mind sharp. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are especially beneficial. The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, is a good choice.
While eating is usually considered the fun part, cooking is also good for your brain. Cooking a variety of foods improves your executive functioning skills like organizing, planning, and multitasking.
5 Watch what you’re drinking
Drinking plenty of water has many health benefits, and that includes improving your thinking skills. The general rule of thumb is to aim to drink 8 glasses of water per day. If you drink caffeine and alcohol, it’s important to do so in moderation.
6 Manage your medical conditions
We’re all busy, but it’s important to keep regular checkups with your primary care provider. You should also stay on top of any chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression.
Watch for these changes in thinking
While some cognitive changes can be considered a normal part of aging, they shouldn’t impact your ability to function. A person with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) will experience a greater change in brain health than what’s typically seen in normal aging. Here’s a list of symptoms of cognitive decline to watch for:
Forgetting or missing appointments
Difficulty remembering names
Repeating questions in conversation
Taking longer than usual to find the right words to use
Getting lost while driving
Speech therapy can help with cognitive issues
If you’re noticing changes in your memory, thinking, or word finding, consider scheduling an evaluation with a speech therapist. Look for a therapist who specializes in cognitive-linguistic communication. Your speech therapist will help you improve your cognitive-linguistic functioning by teaching you strategies to use in everyday life, such as techniques to help with memory problems.
Overall, simple lifestyle changes can improve your brain health and prevent cognitive decline. And if you’re experiencing cognitive issues, speech therapy can help improve your quality of life. If you’re noticing changes in your thinking skills, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider.