5 Ways to Enhance Brain Health in 2018

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN

Happy New Year! This time of year the internet is bursting with tips and tricks for writing new year’s resolutions. I believe in making new goals all year long, but the new year is a nice time to recommit yourself to personal resolutions and lifestyle changes. At the Amos Institute, our goal is preventing and reversing Alzheimer’s disease and making every effort to optimize brain health. Here are our five ways to enhance your brain health in 2018. These are all simple, small changes that you can start making today! Continue them all year long to make 2018 the year that you take control of your brain health.

  1. Fast for 12 hours overnight. Give your body 12 hours of not eating or drinking anything (except water) between the last thing you eat or drink at night and the first thing you eat or drink in the morning. This is a type of intermittent fasting that has great cognitive benefits. Practicing fasting like this induces autophagy- a mechanism in which your cells clean up and destroy accumulated plaques and damaged proteins (1). As you might imagine, this is a metabolically favorable process. In fact, increased autophagy has been found to be neuroprotective. Regular intermittent fasting of just 12 hours overnight will allow your brain to upregulate this process and enhance your brain health.
  2. Get 8 hours of sleep. These days, getting adequate restful sleep feels like a luxury. In fact, we brag about how we’re able to function on such little rest. Have you ever boasted about pulling an all-nighter? I know I have, and it is not something to brag about. We underestimate just how important sleep is for our cognitive health. When we consistently go without adequate, restorative sleep, we create a sleep debt. Just like credit card debt catches up with us, so does sleep debt. This debt indicates that the body has chronically gone without the benefits of sleep. Sleep is critical for the consolidation of memories (2). So months, years, or decades without good sleep inevitably results in impaired memory. Start planning 8 hours of sleep into your schedule so that you can begin to reap the many benefits of sleep.
  3. Exercise regularly. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that exercise is good for your overall health. But we don’t talk enough about just how important exercise is for the health of our brain. Exercise is actually one of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline because exercise increases the physical size of the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain (3). The thing is, you don’t need to be an incredible athlete to see these effects. You just need regular exercise. So forget about exercising for the summer beach body- instead, exercise to physically increase the size of your brain!
  4. Find techniques to manage your stress level. Easier said than done, right? We live in a stressful society and there’s basically no way around that. But we can control how we respond to stress. Chronic stress is problematic physiologically for a number of reasons. It’s a major contributor of cognitive decline because chronic stress, even chronic mild stress, reduces the body’s ability to make new brain cells, or neurons (4). If you’re not making new brain cells, you’re not making new memories (so you end up with short term memory loss).  In other words, managing your stress level is an absolute must if you’re going to prioritize brain health this year. The good news is, there are tons of great ways to manage stress. Meditation, yoga, listening to music, staying active, and being in nature are just a few of the methods to manage stress that you should try. Try out a few different things and stick with something that you genuinely enjoy.
  5. Eat whole foods. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” There’s really no better way to say it. We should be eating real, whole foods. We should recognize ingredients and be able to picture how they grow or how they live. Much of what we eat today is not food- it’s just edible. Those are not the same thing. Your brain depends on real food to thrive. Fuel your brain properly by eating lots of plants. A plant based diet, meaning a diet composed of mostly plants, is without a doubt the best way to eat (and for the record, you can eat a plant based diet without being vegan or vegetarian). It just means that most of your plate should be plant foods, in particular, non-starchy vegetables. Fill your plate with plants that will stimulate and fuel your brain.

Stay tuned to our blog throughout 2018 for more information, recipes, and news about optimal cognition and wellness. May this year bring you enhanced brain health!

References:

  1. Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702–710. http://doi.org/10.4161/auto.6.6.12376
  2. Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About Sleep’s Role in Memory. Physiological Reviews, 93(2), 681–766. http://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00032.2012
  3. Erickson, K. I., et al. (2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(7), 3017–3022. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1015950108
  4. De Andrade, J.S. et al. (2013). Chronic unpredictable mild stress alters an anxiety-related defensive response, Fos immunoreactivity and hippocampal adult neurogenesis. Behavioral Brain Research, 250, 81-90. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.04.031