If you're interested in
improving your brain health, you're in luck. There are so many little things you can do every day to not only to feel better mentally, but to also give your brain what it needs to function at its best. And this can include simple stuff, like drinking more water, exercising, meditating — and even doing nothing.
Small habits like these can all add up to a healthier brain, which is something you should prioritize. After all, "lifelong brain health matters as we get one brain for our lifetime," Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, M.A., founder of
Your Brain HealthMatters, LLC, tells Bustle. So the sooner you can start taking care of it, the better.
"Prioritizing your brain health at a younger age can have cumulative effects as you get older," Dr. Culler says. "How you live your life and your daily choices matter to your future brain." Though, she adds, it's never too late to start taking better care of yourself.
By adding certain habits into your life, you can build up your "cognitive reserve," Dr. Culler says, which is important when it comes to combatting
age-related diseases and dementia risks. "Cognitive reserve is built up throughout your lifetime through your lifestyle and daily choices," she says, "such as education and continual lifelong learning, physical exercise, sleep, meditation, and so on." Here are more things you can do every day for a healthier brain now and into the future, according to experts.
"Research shows that regular meditation
can improve memory and concentration," Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. But that's only one reason why it can be a healthy habit to get into.
Meditation has also been shown to increase the volume of
gray matter in the brain, including parts of the brain related to learning and emotion processing, MacDowell says. And it's also been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression.
"If meditation is not a daily part of your routine
aim to add it in," Dr. Culler says. "Start with a shorter interval (a few minutes per day) and then work your way up to a longer interval (20 plus minutes per day)." Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
"Quality sleep, between seven and nine hours, can be extremely helpful in managing your overall health and your brain health,"
psychotherapist Patrick Schultz, MA, LPC, NCC, tells Bustle. "This is the time for your body to recharge, manage life stressors, and allow you to file away memories and information into short and long-term memory."
You can ensure you're
getting enough rest by going to bed on time every night, and sticking to a sleep schedule, as well as sleeping in a slightly cool, dark, and quiet environment, Schultz says.
To make your mind more resilient, try practicing gratitude every day, possibly by writing down what you're grateful for, telling a friend, or simply thinking it to yourself,
therapist Kimberly Vered Shashoua, LCSW, tells Bustle.
And then watch as other areas of your life improve, too. "Researchers have found gratitude has an effect on more than just brain health," Vered Shashoua says. "People who practice gratitude have
stronger immune systems, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed upon waking."
While it may sound too good to be true, thinking happy thoughts really can be good for your brain. "The more pleasant your thoughts, the more functional and peaceful your mind is,"
Dr. Lisa N. Folden, licensed physical therapist and naturopathic lifestyle coach, tells Bustle. "Blood flow is eased [...] and mood is improved."
So if you catch yourself going into a negative spiral or stressing out, stop and replace those thoughts
with something positive. With practice, it will get easier.
When was the last time you did a crossword puzzle? "Keeping your brain 'smart' requires regularly challenging it with quizzes, games, trivia, etc.," Dr. Folden says. She recommends playing online games or quizzing yourself with trivia apps on a regular basis, to
keep your mind sharp.
"Reading helps to give your brain a workout that increases complex cognitive functions and increases blood flow to the brain,"
Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. "Reading different kinds of things also actives different areas of the brain, ignites creativity, and changes your brain structure for the better."
To get these benefits, you might crack open a book in the morning, or sit down for a quick read during lunch. Whatever you can do to fit more reading into your life.
While reading and playing trivia games can keep your brain sharp, you'll also want to
take breaks throughout the day and literally do (and think) about nothing.
"Breaks can be short and just a few minutes to offer benefits," Dr. Culler says. "It can be helpful to [...] modify your routines around your natural body rhythm preferences when you can."
Do you feel sluggish in the afternoon? Give yourself some downtime then, and your brain will thank you.
"Our bodies are 70 percent water; our brains are 85 percent,"
mental health therapist Stephanie Korpal, M.Ed., LPC, tells Bustle. "Our brain, like our body, needs fuel. And water is the best way to give our brain that energy."
If you're experiencing brain fog or fatigue,
drinking more water can help, and it can "also mean a decrease in feelings of anger and depression, and can help us sleep better," Korpal says. All good things when it comes to brain health.
"Nutrition can play a key factor in brain health, especially in relation to the gut,"
psychotherapists Lin Anderson, LMHC, M.A., Ed.M and Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, tell Bustle. "Various studies show that good gut health leads to good brain health, and can reduce symptoms of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety."
Include more high-fiber foods like broccoli, which can feed the good bacteria in the gut, Anderson and Sternlicht say, as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.
You can always spend time alone hanging out and doing your own thing. But socializing should be a priority, too. "Recent research has shown that having social ties and a strong sense of community has been linked to a
lower risk of dementia in the elderly," integrative health coach Lorraine Miano, tells Bustle. So make it a point now, and into the future, to maintain ties with friends, volunteer, see family, and just generally stay connected.
"Our brains need omega-3 fatty acids for optimal brain function and mood stability," Miano says. So go ahead and add foods into your meals like wild caught fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and walnuts.
"Omega-3s improve the
health of brain cell membranes," Miano says. "Eating healthy fats also combats anxiety and depression."
Even if you've technically finished going to school, it doesn't mean you should stop learning. In fact, as Dr. Culler says, "Lifelong learning is critical for our brain to continue to grow with age," which is why you should
prioritize learning new things, such as languages, skills, new hobbies, and so on.
It's important to keep these habits in mind now, and as you get older. Brain health is 70 percent lifestyle and 30 percent genetics, Dr. Culler says, so you have a lot of control over how you feel. She also says it's
never too late to start a new habit, and improve the health of your brain.