How to boost your brain health according to recent research

How to boost your brain health according to recent research

According to the latest publications from researchers around the world, if you follow the basic principles of maintaining optimum health - exercise regularly, stay hydrated and eat a healthy, balanced diet -  your cognitive function will be at its best. Common sense it may be, be sometimes a reminder from the experts can help give us the kick along we need.

In the past twelve months, the key research conclusions are that regularly applying the following will optimise your brain health:

·        Sleep well

·        Exercise regularly

·        Learn something new

·        Include healthy fats in your diet

·        Indulge in regular intimacy.

According to our academics, these are the tenets of good cognitive health for older adults over 50 years old.

Sleep well

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as easy as it sounds but it is so critical to good physical and mental health. You’ll know yourself, that just one frustrating night of tossing and turning can have you feeling like you’re walking around in a fog the next day. Numerous research articles over the years have associated sleep deprivation with a decline in memory and attention.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States recently published the outcomes of a study that indicated that just one night of poor sleep can cause an increase in amyloid beta. This is the protein plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

So, if you’re not sleeping well and your brain health is important to you, it’s time to look at the causes and explore solutions. Visit your trusted medical adviser, or explore resources available on the Sleep Health Foundation’s fact sheets.

Exercise regularly

Overwhelmingly, recent published research associated with improving brain health in older adults, has focused on the positive contribution of regular cardiovascular and resistance exercise.

Mental cognitive training programs, ‘brain training’ and actively learning new skills to enhance cognitive function was a research focus for a number of years. However, research in the past year, indicates that regular physical activity is a far greater contributor to optimum cognitive function than mental activities.

It is a no brainer that cardiovascular and aerobic activity improves blood flow to your brain but recent research indicates mixing this up with resistance training could be a brain health booster for our maturing population.

The University of Canberra’s Research Institute for Sport and Excercise (UCRISE) recently published research indicating that mixing aerobic and resistance exercise had the greatest cognitive benefits for the over 50s. The conclusion of the research was that a moderate intensity exercise program combining aerobic and resistance training, of at least 45 minutes each session is going to benefit cognitive function in senior adults.

In its Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART), University of Sydney and its Faculty of Health Sciences supports this research and has found that increasing muscle strength can improve brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Researchers across Australia are aligned in this thinking with Queensland Brain Institute (QBI)  also concluding that exercise has been able to increase production of new brain cells and improve learning and memory.

Yoga could be a great low impact way to protect against cognitive decline as we age. According to Science Daily, elderly female yoga practitioners’ in Brazil have greater cortical thickness in the left prefrontal cortex of their brain. This is the part of our brain associated with cognitive functions like memory and attention.

Learn something new

While research in the past year has focused on the positive cognitive benefits of physical exercise, mental fitness and a commitment to lifelong learning continues to be associated with optimum cognitive functioning. Neuroplasticity research continues to support the association with learning something new, and the development and strengthening of neural pathways.

The most efficient way to build new neural pathways, and strengthen those you still need to keep in good condition, is to continue to learn something new. From enrolling in a course to learn to speak and understand a new language, to cooking a new recipe, to driving a different route to a familiar destination - there are endless ways to exercise your neural pathways and strengthen your cognitive abilities.

Include Omega-3 fats in your diet

A healthy, balanced diet and staying well hydrated continues to be a key contributor to good physical and cognitive health. While nutrition research changes constantly, the idea of a diet with less red meat, more fish and shellfish, nuts, mostly whole grains, fruit and vegetables, olive oil and other healthy fats continues tobe promoted as our best chance at achieving optimal health.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as Omega-3 are not produced by our body, so we need to include them in our diets. These fatty acids are needed to help regulate neurotransmitters responsible for mental alertness and focus. EFAs are also thought to protect the blood vessels in your brain and reduce inflammation, promoting neurogenesis.  Neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons in the brain. The richest sources of Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish. Consider incorporating krill oil, salmon, sardines mackerel and tuna into your diet.

Read our article 8 foods that are good for your ageing brain to find out more about diet and cognitive health.

York University has recently published research suggesting that eating yeast extract such as that found in Marmite or Vegemite, may boost brain health thanks to a high concentration of Vitamin B12 which is thought to protect us against neurological disorders.

Indulge in regular intimacy

If you’re fortunate enough to have a lover in your life, indulging in regular sexual activity is thought to be a contributor to good cognitive health. A new study from Coventry University found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those not sexually active. 

If it’s healthy, consensual sexual activity, boosting your cognitive health could be a good additional benefit!

Other cognitive health boosting research articles that may be of interest

Exercise delivers brain boost for over 50s

Exercising 45 minutes a week improves brain health

Frequent sexual activity can boost brain power in older adults

Increasing muscle strength can improve brain function

Super agers: This special group of older adults suggests you can keep your brain young and spry

The single best type of exercise for your brain according to scientists

(main image: istockphoto.com)

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