Brain health is becoming an increasingly important topic in modern times. However, not many people are aware of the everyday ways you can keep your mind both healthy and sharp. Here we’ll run through 5 things you can do on a daily basis to keep your grey matter optimized for health and performance, whatever your age.

1. Exercising

In recent decades the health sciences have been finding exercise to be a panacea for physical and mental wellbeing. There are a number different benefits to working out.

Firstly, engaging in rigorous activity enhances your cardiovascular system, which is responsible for supplying sufficient oxygen to your brain. A lack of brain oxygenation in aging is associated with many forms of cognitive decline. Physical activity also stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood and thinking.

Secondly, if doing exercise outdoors, exposure to daylight allows our skin to rapidly synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to be the wonder vitamin for overall health and disease prevention, as well as playing a central role in regulating nerve cell growth between neurons, and boosting neurotransmitters. In fact, some of the latest medical findings in the US suggest it may strongly suppress symptoms in patients infected with COVID-19. Additionally, sunlight via the retina enhances our emotional state through stimulating feel good hormones.

Thirdly, when playing sports, complex motor-skill learning is induced. Rather than just training your muscular system, this gives your brain and central nervous a serious workout too. And if playing tactical or team-based sports like basketball, soccer or tennis, your perceptual-cognitive and decision-making systems are also put to the test.

A landmark study published in Nature revealed that elite athletes have highly adaptive brains geared for rapid learning of new skills. This could be related to the intensive cognitive workouts they sustain throughout the careers.

Takeaway – try to take some time out of every day to do some exercise, preferably outdoor sports. However, something as simple as having a routine of walking or cycling to work will still be beneficial for your mental acuity.

2. Taking on New Learning Challenges

Your brain thrives from learning. Learning stimulates neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, testing our grey matter to keep in peak shape in order to keep adapting and growing. A key aspect is the degree of challenge involved in learning a particular skill. Research has found that longer term challenges offer significant long-term benefits. Classic examples of such activities include learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument.

However even novel skills, such as learning to juggle or ride a unicycle, still tax the brain significantly. The most important thing is to be engaged in constant learning, and when you plateau, move onto a new challenge. Even socializing with new people engages many high-level cognitive systems, giving your mind a continuous workout and increasing longevity. The benefit is that your mind is then primed to perform on a daily basis, no matter what you are faced with.

Takeaway – take on learning new and novel tasks whenever you can, stick with them while still challenging, but move on once the challenge plateaus.

3. Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Previously we covered superfoods for your brain, however brain health and performance involves everything you eat. Therefore, the most important goal is achieving a balanced diet, particularly in terms of varied vitamin and mineral intake.

For example, if you are moderately low on vitamin K, your body cannot code proteins involved with removing plaque growth along your arteries. This is directly related to an increased risk of heart disease, along with restricting blood flow between the ears.

Stocking the health store shelves alongside supplements, ‘brain boosting’ nootropics have been seeing a big rise in last 5 years, with myriads of new products coming onto the market each year. Overall, the scientific jury is still out for most of them, awaiting more compelling evidence to support their actual cognitive effects.

That said there are exceptions, such as omega-3 supplements, which have shown benefits of improvement in brain functions, particularly for people with mild cognitive decline and depression. Omega-3 fatty acids can be eaten in their natural form by keeping the skin on fish, with some research showing this form has greater benefits for tuning up your thinking skills.

Takeaway – it’s advice we’ve all heard before, ‘eat a balanced diet’. Consuming a variety of healthy foods will go a long way to giving your brain the nutrition it needs to stay in shape.

4. Getting Good Quality Sleep

Quality sleep is one of the big topics when it comes to overall wellness. Not only does a sound night’s rest physically rejuvenate your brain and body, dreaming involves simulating reality both mentally and physically. When you dream, you learn.

Psychologically, dreaming is known to be a critical factor for our mental health. If you don’t get REM for many days, the side effect risks could even include death. On the positive side, good sleep has been shown in many studies to boost our long-term memory capacities. This is because the act of sleeping itself has direct a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning and retaining new information.

Other research in recent years has validated the trend for elite athletes to engage in sleep training. For example, a Stanford University study found that almost a full second was shaved off basketball players' sprint times and free throw shooting improved by almost 10% when players extended their sleep time.

Takeaway – getting enough sleep, and good quality sleep, literally improves how your perform each and every day.

5. Engaging in Cognitive Training

While there has been much debate over the transfer effects of the many types of brain training applications on the market, there are a number of companies who have established strong evidence that the right kind of cognitive training provides real-world benefits. As we covered previously, NeuroTracker has been deemed to be a role-model neurotechnology, with a plethora of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating wide benefits to mental performance.

Though the majority of people wouldn’t typically consider a training program to sharpen their minds, cognitive training has become standard practice for professional athletes, along with many people interested in healthy aging. What do these two groups have in common? Just one thing, they want to better their brains. The question is, who doesn’t?

The latest research shows that cognitive training programs can be highly practical and convenient to fit into a daily routine. For instance, findings with NeuroTracker show that just one 6-minute session per day on a personal computer or laptop, transfers to robust gains in real-world performance in a matter of weeks. This has been corroborated in EEG based studies with positive and sustained improvements in brainwave activity throughout many regions, indicating a heightening of neuroplasticity.

Takeaway – to sharpen your mind in a highly efficient manner, take on a cognitive training program and make it part of your daily routine.

Upwards and Onwards

It’s common for people to think that some level of cognitive decline is inevitable from as young as 30 years old, however neuroscience tells us it’s time to think again. We’ve covered 5 simple and practical ways to tweak your daily routines to optimize your brain functions and mental sharpness. While each of these are effective, the biggest benefits will come from the synergy of incorporating several or all of these into your daily life. Good luck!

If you’re interested in learning more about brain health and fitness, checkout our blogs covering specific topics.

5 Ways to Boost Your Neurogenesis

7 Ways to Harness Your Neuroplasticity

9 Superfoods for Your Brain

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