It’s important to pay close attention to your brain health so that you can prevent chronic—often uncurable—diseases like Alzheimer’s. And the good news is, science shows us how to do this. Clients from Surprise to Phoenix contact me regularly with the best ways to support their mind through nutrition. Your brain is sometimes referred to as the “control center” of your body. Beyond helping you to think and remember clearly, your brain helps to regulate the rest of your body, like your breathing, temperature, hunger, and hormones.
Your brain’s health is influenced by six fundamental pillars:
- Stress reduction
- Sleep and relaxation
- Medications and supplements
- Food and nutrition
In this article, we’ll go through each one of these pillars of brain health before diving deeper into specific and actionable strategies surrounding food and nutrition.
Pillar #1 – Exercise for Brain Health
Exercise is incredibly beneficial for physical and mental fitness, to de-stress, improve sleep, as well as keep your heart, lungs, and muscles healthy. What’s more, being physically active is a fundamental pillar of brain health. There are several types of exercise, and all are beneficial.
Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio” or “endurance” exercise, helps to get your heart rate up and your muscles warm. Examples of aerobic exercises include biking, swimming, running, and climbing stairs. This type of exercise benefits your brain because it helps to preserve existing brain cells and promotes the growth of new ones.
Another type of exercise is strength or “resistance” training such as pushing or pulling weights or other heavy objects (like groceries). This is known to help build and maintain strong bones. Strength training also helps your brain by enhancing your concentration and improving your decision-making skills.
Pillar #2 – Stress Reduction for Brain Health
We all experience stress. Stress is how the body and brain react to a threat or demand (or “stressor”). These reactions are often called “fight or flight.” They include increased heart rate and breathing and a heightened sense of focus. All these physiological reactions are initiated by the brain when it detects the threat.
Once the threat is gone, the stress response relaxes, and your body and brain can regain their normal (“low/no stress”) balance. However, sometimes that stress lingers on for days, weeks, and months (or even longer) and becomes long-term or “chronic” stress. It’s this chronic stress that can negatively impact your brain. Chronic stress can effectively shrink the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning and can increase the part of your brain that is receptive to stress.
While stress cannot be eliminated entirely (and that’s arguably not an ideal goal anyway) you can learn effective techniques to better manage it and preserve your brain health. One very practical—but often difficult—strategy is to “just say no” to things you don’t have to do. Turning down unnecessary opportunities to take on more responsibility may help reduce the amount of stress you feel.
Another strategy to reduce stress is to focus on the specific problem at hand in the present moment. This can help you see the current situation more clearly and make better decisions, to avoid turning it into an unmanageably large issue or perceiving the situation to be more difficult than it must be.
Finally, calming the mind through meditation or guided imagery can help reduce the feelings of stress by refocusing your attention on something positive and soothing.
Pillar #3 – Sleep for Brain Health
Getting your 7-9 hours of sleep each night helps your mood and ability to manage stress. Sleep also allows you to be better able to plan and run your busy life and ensure that you can have the energy to do what you need to do to maintain and improve your well-being (including the five other pillars of brain health).
One of the most important things you can do to get enough sleep is to foster a regular sleep schedule. By going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day—including weekends and when you’re traveling—you “train” your body and brain to get on a healthy sleep schedule.
Another strategy to help you get more sleep is to create a relaxing bedtime routine. That routine can start an hour (or more) before you need to sleep and can include things like dimming lights, putting your screens away (no more TV, internet, or smart phones), listening to soothing music or reading a book, or having a warm relaxing bath.
Whatever helps you get your sleep is going to also help your brain.
Pillar #4 – Socialization
Staying connected to a network of people you care about can help reduce stress, improve mood, and help to feel more supported in life. Your social network can include your spouse and/or partner, immediate and extended family members, friends, or others in your community.
You can socialize informally or spontaneously (like walking or chatting with a neighbor) or you can join organized activities like hobby groups, sports teams, or volunteering opportunities. The brain benefits of socializing even extend beyond people to pets. Studies show that pets can help you feel calm, improve your health, and enhance your social life, all of which can benefit your brain.
Pillar #5 – Medications and Supplements
Depending on your personal health situation, you may be advised to take medications or supplements. These can be important to reducing your risks for serious conditions and slowing down the progression of diseases. Some of the medical conditions that are linked to deteriorating brain health include high blood pressure, diabetes, and excess weight. These can increase your risks of cognitive decline (reduced memory and ability to think) and developing dementia.
If you are looking for good quality supplements for your brain health and/or for any other reason, I recommend you purchase all your supplements from here.
Food and Nutrition for Your Brain Health
There are several foods and nutrients that promote a healthy brain by slowing cognitive decline and reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. University researchers developed the MIND diet to emphasize foods that are rich in antioxidants and critical brain nutrients such as vitamins and other plant-based phytochemicals.
Let’s go through a few of the key foods and nutrients to boost your brain health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that promote heart and brain health. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines. The MIND diet recommends at least one serving of fish each week. If you don’t love fish, omega-3s are also found in nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, walnuts, and soy.
Plants contain much more than vitamins and minerals. They’re also a great source of fiber and antioxidant phytochemicals. Eating more plants not just help your brain, but it is also associated with better heart health and weight maintenance.
Some of the top plants for brain health are deeply colored fruits and vegetables like berries, leafy greens, and broccoli. The MIND diet recommends vegetables every day, at least six servings of greens each week, and at least two servings of berries each week.
Spices and Chocolate
Spices and dark chocolate contain antioxidants called flavonoids. These compounds can help improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. These can be found in high amounts in turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and dark and unsweetened chocolate.
Coffee and Teas
Did you know that coffee can help to improve your memory and ward off dementia? Up to two cups (8 oz each) of black coffee per day is recommended. When it comes to teas, black and green teas contain antioxidants for brain health.
Moderate Consumption of Red Wine
Resveratrol is a compound found in red wine and the skin of red grapes. It is also an antioxidant and is thought to be able to reduce cell damage and protect against the formation of plaques in the brain. Too much alcohol is not good for your brain either, so it’s important not to overdo it. Try to stick with no more than one glass of red wine per day if you’re a woman and no more than two glasses per day if you’re a man. You can also consume resveratrol from drinking red grape juice, which has the added benefit of being alcohol-free.
Whole grain.s like oats and quinoa are rich in brain-healthy B-vitamins and fiber, making them an important part of the MIND diet. B-vitamins are essential so that the brain can create energy, repair DNA, maintain the proper structure of neurons (nerve/brain cells), and create essential neurochemicals for optimal function. B-vitamins also act as antioxidants to reduce the harmful effects of free radicals that can damage brain cells (or any cells).
Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine” vitamin because your skin makes it when it’s exposed to the sun. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risks for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. You can increase your vitamin D levels by going in the sun for 5-15 minutes three times a week. You may need slightly more time if you have darker skin or live in a more northern latitude. Try not to get too much sun without sunscreen as it can increase your risk for skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements are also widely available. Talk to your healthcare professional to find the right one for you. I recommend using (Full script) to purchase all your supplements.
Limit Red Meat
Consuming too many foods high in saturated fats is linked with an increased risk for heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet recommends no more than four servings of red meat per week. Try limiting your red meat, butter, and dairy whenever you can and consider substituting with beans, lentils, and soy.
~ Final Thoughts ~
There are many things you can do to support your brain health. These include incorporating many different healthy habits such as getting exercise, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, socializing with others (or with pets), and following recommendations for medications and supplements. When it comes to food and nutrition for brain health, try to get enough omega-3s, more plants, spices and chocolate, coffee and tea, vitamin D, and a bit of red wine. Limit the amount of red meat you consume.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can implement these six essential brain health strategies into your life, you can reach out to your healthcare professional.
Are you worried about your risks for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
Do you want to know which foods, nutrients, and other lifestyle choices will help your brain stay healthy for years to come?
Do you need a plan to help you embed these six pillars of brain health in your day-to-day life?
We’ll discuss the steps needed to achieve your health goals.
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2017, April 18). Controlling risk factors for brain disease.
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2017, May 18). Exercise benefits the brain too. https://healthybrains.org/exercising-benefits-brain/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2018, April 6). Shining a light on vitamin D. https://healthybrains.org/shining-a-light-on-vitamin-d/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). 6 pillars of brain health. https://healthybrains.org/pillars/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Food & nutrition. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-nutrition/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Medical health. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-medical/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Sleep & relaxation. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-sleep/
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021) Social interaction. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-social/
Dhana, K., James, B. D., Agarwal, P., Aggarwal, N. T., Cherian, L. J., Leurgans, S. E., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Schneider, J. A. (2021). MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 83(2), 683–692. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-210107
Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068
Mayo Clinic. (2019, July 31). Improve brain health with the MIND diet. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/improve-brain-health-with-the-mind-diet/art-20454746
National Institute on Aging. (2020, November 3). A good night’s sleep. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, August 4). Omega-3 fatty acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
Pike, A. (2019, January 15). What is the MIND diet? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-the-mind-diet/
Touro University Worldwide. (2016, July 26). The mind and mental health: How stress affects the brain. https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/