Whether or not we want to admit it, our modern lifestyles can actually contribute to cognitive decline more than age. We sleep less, work more, eat poorly, and expose ourselves (knowingly and unknowingly) to a slew of toxins. The good news is that there are steps you can take to lead a healthy lifestyle and prevent – or even reverse – cognitive decline. Parts of your brain are actually able to regenerate and grow new neurons and brain cells. The hippocampus (aka the memory center of the brain) is very good at this. (1)
The tips and tricks listed below are all items that can easily be incorporated into your way of life. Whether you start small and make gradual changes (recommended), or do a dramatic lifestyle overhaul, the important thing is that you take the steps to protect your brain.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Your body can’t repair itself without enough sleep. There’s no getting around it.
Even though the brain is largely still a mystery, new research is emerging every year. One thing that has remained consistent is the fact that lack of sleep affects your ability to function. While you sleep, your brain doesn’t actually shut off. It enters a series of regenerative cycles that are critical for memory, waste removal, regenerating brain cells, and controlling the other bodily repair systems that kick into high drive at night.
Getting as little as 4-6 hours of sleep in one night as opposed to the recommended 7-9 hours can impair your brain’s ability to function the very next day. It was once believed that cognitive decline and loss of brain cells was irreversible. However, recent research proved this theory to be false: your brain can, in fact, continue to grow and develop through a process called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity impacts and may even control learning, memory, and aspects of human behavior. Loss of sleep impairs your brains neuroplastic abilities, over time creating long-term, permanent issues. Degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia have been linked to chronic lack of sleep.
2. Keep Moving
Aside from the physical and aesthetic benefits of regular exercise, it turns out that working up a good sweat improves brain function as well. (2) There’s no need to hop on the treadmill for hours and hours either – your brain’s ability to process information and store/retrieve memories improves after just 20 minutes of physical activity. (3)
When you exercise, blood flow and heart rate increase significantly. This forces oxygenated blood through your whole body, which means your brain is also getting a good boost in oxygen levels.
Physical activity also stimulates the brain to release neurotrophic factors; a type of protein that supports the growth and sustainment of neurons. (4)
In fact, individuals who engage in regular physical activity are able to actually expand their brain’s memory centers at a rate of 1-2 percent every year! Inactive individuals experience a reduction in their memory center’s size.
To get the most benefits from exercise, make use of a comprehensive program that incorporates strength/resistance training, core exercises, and moderate amounts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
In a time crunch or with a lack of equipment, a light run or brisk walk will still do much more for you than no exercise at all.