Healthy Habits To Keep Your Brain Sharp
- Written by Melanie Smith
- May 20, 2021
The choices we make daily can have a significant impact on our brain’s health and function.
Whether you are looking to improve your focus or stay mentally sharp, the following habits are scientifically proven to help protect and support a healthy mind.
10 Habits To Keep Your Brain Sharp
1. Learn Something New
Thousands of new neurons (brain cells) are formed daily, but their survival rate depends on whether or not they are used – a ‘use it or lose it’ scenario.
The production of neurons together with learning interact to maintain a fit brain. The more challenging the task, the greater the neuronal survival, especially when the learning is successful.
Challenging your brain with mental exercises is believed to stimulate processes that help maintain and support individual brain cells and promote communication among them.
To challenge yourself and keep your brain sharp, try:
- Taking on a new task at work
- Learning a new skill
- Learning a new language
- Taking a lesson for a sport you’ve always wanted to learn
- Taking on a new hobby
2. Embrace Change and Variety
‘Activity diversity’ — changing up your activities and routine — strengthens the plasticity of the brain and can lead to higher overall cognitive function.
Here are some ways to practice activity diversity:
- Take a different route to work
- Walk or bike to work rather than driving
- Try a new recipe
- Try a new sport
- Change up the type of exercise you do or the location of your workout
3. Socialise With Like-Minded People
Socialising engages multiple areas of the brain and meaningful interactions improve our sense of wellbeing while decreasing stress and feelings of depression. Since the day we were born, we crave connection through social interaction which contributes to our cognitive development.
As an adult, socialising keeps the brain active, reduces mental decline and reduces the risk of dementia. When we are with peers, we engage, speak, express emotions, learn, laugh and share. Individuals who are socially active throughout their lives tend to report greater late-life satisfaction.
To increase your socialising, you may consider trying:
- Joining a club
- Taking a group exercise class
- Setting up a weekly get together with a group of friends
4. Play Brain Games
Do you play puzzles, brainteasers, or use learning apps? Excellent! It is well known that these ‘brain games’ may help train the brain and improve focus, concentration, and memory, especially when combined with other healthy brain habits.
The trick is to find brain games that are challenging and enjoyable.
Here are some brain game ideas to try:
- Crossword puzzles
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Family games that require interpretation and recall
- Word puzzles
5. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Proper nutrition, quality sleep, and exercise are all key elements to brain health. Maintain a consistent sleeping routine, choose whole, unprocessed foods, and make sure to participate in regular physical activity. All of these healthy habits will help support healthy brain function.
- Eggs – especially the yolk
- Nuts – especially walnuts
- Oily fish – especially sardines
- Berries – especially blueberries
- Cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, kale and cabbage
- Leafy greens – such as spinach
- Asian greens – such as bok choy
6. Pay Attention to Gut Health
A growing body of research suggests that gut health is strongly connected to brain health.
Gut bacteria use endocrine, immune, and neural pathways to communicate with the central nervous system. By influencing gut bacteria, it may be possible to affect cognitive processes, mood, and stress levels.
To help support gut health, you can try incorporating the following foods into your diet regularly:
- Coconut kefir
These foods are bursting with probiotics that help support the healthy bacteria in your gut.
7. Manage Stress Levels
Studies indicate that relaxing activities such as meditation can increase grey matter in the brain. Increasing grey matter in the brain can help increase its ability to manage emotions, control attention, maintain focus, and stay alert.
Additionally, other studies have found a link between stress and shrinkage in the brain. This makes stress management especially important.
Here are some great options for reducing and managing stress levels:
- Spending time outdoors
- Taking a walk or a hike
- Deep breathing exercises
8. Avoid Smoking
Along with increasing the risk of a variety of health problems, smoking also accelerates brain degradation. Studies show that smoking may thin the brain’s cortex, an area involved with perception, language, and memory.
9. Lift Weights
Along with aerobic exercise and yoga, strength training is an excellent habit to incorporate into your fitness routine.
10. Use the Repeat Trick
When you want to remember something you have just heard, there is a special trick to rely on: the repeat trick.
To remember something after just hearing it, try thinking about it, writing it down, or repeating it out loud. This reinforces your memory or connection to the information and increases your chances of remembering it.
Next time you learn someone’s name, repeat it back to them when speaking with them. For example: “Tim, tell me how you were introduced to Natalie?”.
We hope you found our list of healthy habits to keep your brain sharp helpful and informative. Do you have any favourite tricks for keeping your brain healthy? We’d love to hear from you.
- J Shors, LM Anderson, D. M. Curlik, II, and SM Nokia. Use it or lose it: How neurogenesis keeps the brain fit for learning. Behav Brain Res.; 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3191246/
- Soomi Lee , Susan T Charles , David M Almeida. Change is Good for the Brain: Activity Diversity and Cognitive Functioning Across Adulthood. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci; 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32025733/
- Amanda Cook Maher, Stephanie Kielb, Emmaleigh Loyer, et al. Psychological well-being in elderly adults with extraordinary episodic memory. PLOS ONE; 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29059208/
- Lauren A Yates, Shier Ziser, Aimee Spector, Martin Orrell. Cognitive leisure activities and future risk of cognitive impairment and dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. J International Psychogeriatrics; 2016. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics/article/abs/cognitive-leisure-activities-and-future-risk-of-cognitive-impairment-and-dementia-systematic-review-and-metaanalysis/62DC1367E760A45970FE207859D69E45