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5 Easy and Effective Ways To Boost Brain Health

Healthy aging is one of my favorite topics, but it’s important to remember to give our brains the same care and attention that we give to our bodies. If you want to know five, research-based methods for boosting brain health, read on…

Meditation

As Dave Rossi once said to me, when are you going to start meditating? Numerous studies have examined the positive and highly promising link between meditation and reduced aging, specifically in the brain: UCLA researchers have found that meditation might slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain, and another study discovered that daily, intensive meditation slowed brain aging by as much as eight years. Researchers have witnessed potentially “age-defying” effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy, with one neuroscientist’s research into memory and decision-making leading to the revelation that 50-year-olds can actually have the brains of 25-year-olds—that is, if they meditate. She found that meditators had more gray matter in their frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain linked to decision-making and working memory, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they get older. However, the 50-year-old meditators participating in the study had the same amount of gray matter as people who were half their age! In addition, just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains by thickening it in several regions: the left hippocampus (associated with learning, memory, and emotional regulation) was affected, as well as the TPJ (the temporoparietal junction), which correlates with empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives, and finally, a part of the brainstem called the pons, which is where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated. On top of all that, the meditators also experienced shrinkage of the amygdala, the part of the brain linked with fear, anxiety, and aggression. Clearly, meditation has the power to change your brain for the better.



Walking


Exercise is a given when it comes to healthy aging (and many studies have examined how exercise specifically affects cognitive brain health in aging), but is there another form of exercise out there that is as beneficial as walking when it comes to the brain? It doesn’t seem likely when you look at the stats: one recent study discovered that six months of regular, brisk walks resulted not only in improved cardiovascular fitness, but also in an increase in white matter and memory. One UCLA study found that adults (60 years +) who walked more than 4,000 steps daily had a thicker hippocampus, as well as thicker surrounding regions, than those who walked under 4,000 steps daily. This is notable because thickness in these regions specifically correlates with better cognitive function. The study also found that the more active group experienced superior performance in attention and information-processing speed, as well as executive functioning (the skills that allows you to make plans and achieve goals). Basically, if you want to take care of your brain, take a walk every day, because research has linked lower physical activity with thinner brain structures and lower cognitive functioning.


Reading


Reading is perhaps one of the most enjoyable health practices one can do, as well as one of the most effective, as studies have suggested that being a bookworm may actually boost your brain power as you age. This simple activity actually does a lot: research has found that reading can help aging brains remain healthy, as it protects brain health by preventing cognitive decline as you age by helping maintain your ability to concentrate, supporting memory function, and also strengthening and supporting analytical thinking skills. On top of that, reading is a known stress reliever, one that can actually lower your blood pressure and heart rate.


Napping


This one has been around forever, but for good reason. Sleep experts have found that napping can increase alertness, boost mood, creativity, and right-brain activity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, and even help solidify memories! Napping is effective because when your brain does not receive proper restoration over the course of a day, the electrical circuitry of how your brain fires gets depleted, which makes you feel tired, out of it, or “fried.” Take a nap for ten to twenty minutes however, and you refresh the depleted sodium potassium pumps in your brain neurons and will wake to find yourself alert and energized for the rest of the day. One Johns Hopkins article even posed the question: Can a Nap Boost Brain Health?, and another study examined the positive effects of napping on cognitive functioning, while Harvard Health has also looked into the many benefits of napping


Music


This one may surprise you, but it’s true—music actually does offer numerous health benefits, especially when it comes to brain health. Listening to it, learning to play an instrument, or even just singing along to your favorite song has all been linked with improved cognitive ability, superior multi-sensory skills, increased neuroplasticity, reduced stress and depression, and healthy aging for your brain. The ability to play music has also been linked with lower dementia levels, and one study showed much promise for its ability to improve fine and motor skills in stroke patients. Additionally, a Harvard Medical School neurologist found that making music increases your IQ, as well as your academic performance. 

Because of the unique way in which it boosts productivity, mental alertness, and memory, one Johns Hopkins doctor commented“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”  

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