Brain Health Checklist
Aging can significantly change the way our brains function. As we get older, we become more likely to develop degenerative cognitive diseases such as dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. While aging is unavoidable, many of the diet, exercise, and activity choices we make influence how well our brains perform over our lifetimes. Take a look at these brain-healthy dietary supplements, activities, and social practices that can delay or prevent cognitive disorders and memory loss later in life.
- Magnesium-L-threonate – This magnesium salt may reverse decreases in synaptic density, a symptom often attributed to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. A study published in 2010 by Dr. Guosong Liu at Tsinghua University reveals that magnesium-L-threonate promoted increased learning and memory abilities in lab rats that ingested this dietary supplement. Another experiment published in The Journal of Neuroscience reveals that anxiety and fear responses decreased in rats that ingested this supplement, as their synaptic plasticity seems to have increased. The recommended dosage of magnesium-L-threonate is 400 milligrams each day for men and 310 milligrams a day for women who aren’t pregnant.
- Ginkgo Biloba – This supplement has long been used as a preventative treatment for dementia, a memory enhancer, and as a way to improve concentration. BMC Geriatrics released a study in 2010 that detected moderate improvements in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients who took the supplement. Another clinical trial conducted by the Psychopharmacology Research Unit at the Centre for Neuroscience showed improved cognitive performance in students taking ginkgo biloba supplements. The dose of ginkgo biloba has yet to be standardized by the medical community. It is recommended that individuals check with their doctor and begin with a small dose of 120 milligrams.
- Phosphatidylcholine – This choline may prompt the growth of new brain cells and connections between neurons. Brain Research published a study demonstrating improved memory and cognitive skills in rats that received choline treatments. Dr. Richard Wurtman at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, has extensively researched the links between phosphatidylcholine and synapse regrowth. This drug is not yet available as an ingestible supplement, since it is typically administered to hepatitis C patients orally. As research on this choline grows, phosphatidylcholine may later become available as a supplement.
- Citicoline – This supplement is believed to decrease memory loss in patients that have suffered strokes, dementia, or head trauma. A study published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press demonstrates a link between long-term citicoline use and improved memory. A study performed on glaucoma patients by the G.B. Bietti Foundation in Italy shows improved neural and retinal functions after citicoline treatments. The supplemental dosage used in scientific research is 1000-2000 mg daily, for those wishing to address cognitive decline due to aging.
- Fruits and Vegetables – Having a well-balanced diet is encouraged by physicians for a variety of reasons, including healthy brain functions. The Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Dusseldorf released a study linking fruit and vegetable intake to higher cognitive performance. These benefits appeared in test participants regardless of their age, body mass, education, and gender. Another study conducted by Harvard Medical School reveals that lifelong vegetable intake plays a significant role in slowing down memory decline. Participants were tested on their cognitive abilities between the years of 1976 until 2001, measuring data across twenty-five years. The Center for Disease Control provides a handy calculator on their website, recommending fruit and vegetable intake amounts based on age, sex, and level of physical activity.
- Physical Exercise – Muscles you don’t use begin to atrophy. Aside from keeping your body in shape, daily exercise has been shown to help prevent dementia and other diseases that lead to cognitive degeneration. Scientists have found correlations between physical well-being and spry mental functions. The Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia published a study illustrating higher cognitive functions in participants who exercised in short bursts each day. Another experiment conducted by a Swedish university demonstrated heightened activity in the hippocampus after running – an important part of the brain for short- and long-term memory and spatial navigation. Many experts say a daily 30-minute exercise routine can help you enjoy both improved physical and mental health.
- Mental Stimulation – Activities such as knitting, reading, and filling out crossword puzzles can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute reports that participants who perform lifelong cognitive activities have lower [(11)C]PiB uptakes, a compound linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Cambridge University has also noted a history of cognitive stimulation can lead to favorable perception speeds and semantic memory. These journals note that cognitive benefits occur with lifelong learners, so make sure to keep your brain engaged daily.
- Prayer and Spirituality – Scientists are continually baffled by intense displays of brain activity that are triggered by prayer and spirituality. No matter what faith or denomination individuals participate in, prayer and spiritual activities seem to increase moods, improve perception, and reduce stress. Dr. Andrew Newberg of the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University uses imaging technology to show how various areas of the brain light up with activity, even as the participant remains still and silent. Morgan Freeman narrates a video about his research, called “Through the Wormhole: Your Brain on Prayer”. It details how the language and visual centers of the brain react during prayer. Many participants in these studies pray on a daily basis.
- Living a Social Life – Whether one is introverted or extroverted, our brains are wired to interact on a social level. Scientists have drawn parallels between the size of primate species’ brains and the size of their social networks. Larger groups seem to demand greater social analytics and processing, and researchers believe some species evolved larger brains to handle further sociability. The American Journal of Public Health has also noted that socially active individuals are less likely to succumb to dementia and other brain diseases. Those who live alone exhibit higher risks, so be sure to cultivate a wide social network and participate in group activities several times a week.
- Meditation – The potential effects of meditation are very similar to prayer – increased awareness, positive moods, and stress reduction. The Perceptual and Motor Skills journal published an experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania that shows increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobes, and inferior frontal lobes during periods of meditation. Another study published in Neuroreport demonstrates relaxation effects tied to the automatic nervous system in meditating participants. Meditation on a daily or weekly basis can help one experience some of these mental benefits.
There isn’t a single sure way to improve brain health and wellness. So many factors play a role in agile brain activity and memory maintenance that it’s difficult to parse them all out. However, the above steps are some of the best techniques we know of today. While aging is inevitable, these steps may help ensure a longer and more enjoyable life.