Our understanding of the way our brain functions on a cellular level is always evolving – take the concept of neurogenesis, for example. Roughly 20 years ago, it was generally thought that once a person’s brain had reached maturity, it could not undergo the process of neurogenesis – that is, the production of new brain cells.
However, now we know that that’s simply not true; even adult brains can undergo neurogenesis, and in fact, there are several natural ways to help the process along and improve cognitive function at the same time.
Here are some methods for improving neurogenesis in your brain:
It might sound like a cliche at this point, but exercise really is good for your brain. Acute exercise significantly elevates your levels of a neurotransmitter known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps promote the production of new brain cells(1).
Exercise also reduces your levels of stress, which minimizes the production of the stress hormone cortisol – which can lead to the premature death of brain cells(2).
You don’t need to be religious or even particularly spiritual to reap the benefits of meditation or mindfulness-based exercises. There’s a growing body of evidence that proves that mindfulness-based meditation exercises can reduce stress levels and help increase grey matter density in various parts of the brain, including the hippocampus(3).
It might seem obvious, but many people today struggle to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Because your brain is made up of about 60 percent fat, it’s important to feed it with healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil, as well as plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and seafood, among other foods. These nutrients are absolutely essential in helping the brain manufacture new brain cells(4).
4. Sleep And 5. Sunlight – 6. And Yes, Sex, Too
Sleep deprivation can reduce hippocampal neurogenesis, which can lead to your hormones becoming out of whack and your brain becoming cluttered with waste products(5). In other words, sleep disruption inhibits your brains ability to produce new brain cells.
Another lifestyle factor that contributes to neurogenesis is exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D, which we get from sun exposure, increases your neurotransmitter levels, so be sure to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day during the summer months.
Finally, there’s sex – yes, sex! Regular sexual activity can help reduce stress levels while increasing levels of certain “feel good” hormones and transmitters in the brain, promoting adult neurogenesis(6).
Armed with these lifestyle factors that can help promote neurogenesis, there’s no reason why ageing should necessarily mean a decline in cognitive function. Many individuals who stay active, eat right, and engage in healthy lifestyle activities retain sharp cognitive functioning well into old age.